Abby Smith Rumsey

Historian Abby Smith Rumsey has spent much of her career looking back, but her newest book focuses on the future and questions around digital preservation: How can we ensure that future generations have access to today’s information given rapid changes in technology? How much of our online lives are worth saving? Rumsey joins us to talk about these issues and her new book, “When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future.”

Historian Looks at How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future 15 March,2016forum

Abby Smith Rumsey, historian; author of "When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future"

  • Robert Thomas

    This March 16 “Coming up on Forum” entry at

    describes the March 8 program. Oh, why so many errors recently, managing this page?

    • And

      I noticed that too.

  • And

    Livermore Police Department just got digital body cameras for it’s officers. They’ll have to pay a service company to store the data. I think it’s a huge waste of money.

  • Chris OConnell

    Headline: “Scientists say all the world’s data can fit on a DNA hard drive the size of a teaspoon.” The storage capacity of DNA is mind-boggling and lasts millenia.

  • Ben Rawner

    People backup their lives on CDs and hard drives. Do we really need all those selfies and flaming Facebook conversations? Barring some epic biblical level disaster, there will be more than enough information left over thousands of years from now. My question is, has there been any society in the past that has been anywhere near as prodigious in its writing or cultural artifacts?

  • Noelle

    This conversation shows how we still need people studying and valuing the liberal arts. We have to have these people interacting with the technologists so our society can make the best decisions about how we deal with the digital world and all its complications.

  • BDN

    Her use of the word “stymies” as in maintaining stable data collections is an understatement for “AFU” and “Cluster #@&%” (4-letter word) if you consider the advent of entirely new career “opportunities” in “massaging” Information Technology, also known as “Big Data” … (now guess how many times i edited this).

  • Chris OConnell

    This episode is reminding me that I am going to die one day. Thanks for the reminder, we like to act immortal.

    “In So Many Ways” by Bad Religion
    I can see the writing on the wall
    Drifting as the leaves start to fall
    Unfazed by rugosity
    The objects yield to gravity
    And depict the destiny of us all

  • eric yahnke

    Access is so important.

    I am writing my senior thesis at SFSU. I find articles and journals that CAL-system did not buy access into. I need to tailor my thesis due to access to well preserved journals but accessible journals.

    The web of academic journals is very frustrating as a scholar. Google scholar and ebooks is frustrating! A book no one reads is half blanked out and sells on amazon for 5$, yet we cant put it online? Its a loose-loose-loose situation.

    I now understand why Aaron Swartz download J-store. I really get it!

    How can universities provide universal access, while retaining profit for the journals?

    Thank you,

    Eric Yahnke

    San Francisco State University

    International Relations

  • Pat Mullen

    To keep my old data alive I maintain emulators of old computers I can use to open those old files. So far that has allowed me to read old files and even convert some to new formats (my masters thesis is in this group). Then every ten years or so I migrate the more important older data to new file formats and storage media. This, to me, is keeping the data alive, and I will maintain it while I live. My goal, therefore, is to find someone to take over my data, make their own evaluations of what is important, and keep that alive after I am gone. Sadly, this is not a sure thing, but I can try. As a genealogist I hope my data informs and pleases some future generation.

  • marte48

    I wonder if sites like Facebook is able to store data after someone dies? In fact, they probably can’t extract it from the pages of the people who were friends of the deceased.

  • anon

    Sorry, but DNA is not a reliable longterm storage. Listen to why we can’t clone a Mammoth

  • Season Hughes

    I’m a librarian/taxonomist and I volunteer with the Digital Game Museum in Santa Clara, CA ( We too are facing the challenge discussed by Abby Smith Rumsey: how and what digital information should be preserved. Our focus now is on preserving physical video game artifacts – the games themselves, consoles, advertising, manuals, etc. – using museum standard preservation methods and materials, but I wonder what we’ll do (or if we even choose) to preserve something like Angry Birds that is an entirely digital game.

    Fascinating story, and I can’t wait to read the book.

  • Gervas Brumer

    An interesting show but completely missed a crucial problem with digital memory: the destruction of data. Especially in a world of cloud storage, controlling data is not only about making sure it is saved, but having abilities to destroy information at will.

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