The cliché of “the Internet never forgets” and my own work has gotten me thinking about how the Internet itself and its functionalities serve as a giant archive for the netizens that inhabit it. Even if the materials themselves aren’t necessarily being carefully selected, curated, and organized according to archival logic, the way that the Internet allows for users to generate their own content and have it exist for as long as that platform does (or if they choose to remove it) positions it as just one large archive with different sections and materials.
Of course, there is the Internet Archive, whose sole purpose is to share access to materials like books, movies, etc. as well as billions and billions of web pages. But the Internet Archive is just one kind of archive, and it seems as though it serves as more of a catch-all place to remember as opposed to some user-generated communities and archives that serve as a space of socialization. Reading Doreen Lee’s book Activist Archives and then seeing materials on FemTechNet and even smaller subreddits that create their own archives for their members to access, reference, and use to help maintain a political movement is what I want to focus more of my attention on.
How do we conceptualize archive in a place where the very modality of communication and sharing can be thought of as an archive itself? When we think about our own bodies and experiences, do we in our minds maintain an archive of ourselves? In what way are political movements using net-based archives for their cause, and how are they being used to socialize (and sometimes indoctrinate) old and new members? In a lot of ways, I guess the Internet and user-generated archives disrupt previously held conceptions of what an archive is and how it “should” be organized and how it should serve others. One commendation of the Internet was how it would serve as a space to democratize knowledge, but if the epistemic violence that exists in [particularly colonial] archives just follows us from the physical to the digital, is this really knowledge democratization or does it just reifies social institutions that already exist?
I’m not going to say that the Internet hasn’t given people access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge – of course it has – but beginning to analyze Internet archives as merely mirrors to already existing archival logic has made me think of the many ways in which the Internet is a space that is embedded with its own biases in how it is developed and maintained. Is knowledge really democratized when it’s inaccessible by most of the world? Is knowledge really “more” accessible when it functions similarly to “physical” archives in that there are still gatekeepers, violence, and oppression that lie underneath the surface of a “free and open” space?
As it has been said time and time again, for those of us in the world who are on the Internet, the Internet is merely a reflection of social actors and does not exist as a separate space – even though it does provide the affordance of being able to transcend space and time for human interaction and access to events, knowledge, etc. But the Internet, like the archive, is built upon a certain kind of logic that privileges certain kinds of knowledge above others, and algorithms function in this regard as well because they are made by people. Has it made knowledge more accessible? I guess it depends on what kind of knowledge we’re talking about.