Ed. Note: Remember, any Internet user can instantly archive most open web pages, PDFs, and other file types by using The Wayback Machine’s “Save Page Now” feature. It’s free to access and use. You can learn more this service here.
The internet’s first librarian likes to reminisce. The early internet is like a fantasy for the founder of the Internet Archive, a place he returns to over and over again in conversation when questions about the present turn dark or depressing. Brewster Kahle might know more about the early years of the web than anyone else.
“There are more and more walled gardens where you can’t go. We just have crawlers going at a crazy scale, and they can get blocked just like anybody can get blocked,” said Jefferson Bailey, the Archive’s director of web archiving and data services.
When I asked Kahle how he thinks about preserving today for historians centuries away, he grew philosophical. He sent links in the Zoom chat, first to the Google doc for a book he wrote, then a Nation piece, then a long blog post he wrote in 2015. By the time we hung up the call, I had piles for reading material, most of it dense, most of it dated.
There’s value to all of this history, he told me. “What we’re able to do now is know about your individual history. We’re able to get to the specificity of the historical record. Which I think is going to really be engaging in 100 years’ time. What would you give for a video of your great-grandmother? It would just give you this ballast, it would give you an anchoring, that we right now lack,” he said. “We’re living in the perpetual present, and that is dangerous.” Kahle believes our history makes us better people, and gives us better knowledge. But history isn’t financially lucrative.