A bit over a week ago, I deleted every single document on my computer that has been written in the last ten years. It was not, as one might suspect, a Marie Kondo-kind-of-situation. I wasn’t radically cleaning up my hard drive, I just clicked an unfortunate number of wrong buttons and wiped out every piece of written document on it.
Everything considered, this entire situation probably amounts to some sort of special talent, I’m just not sure how to call it yet. And I have probably called this every single name in the book on the morning it happened. So, for the past few days, I have been tracking down my written documents like Pokémon, leafing through back-up discs (last updated 2021), email folders and WhatsApp messages.
And while I was trying to re-assemble the archive of my life, the irony of this happening to a history student of all people was not lost on me. The importance of archives – and the information they contain – was, after all, one of the reasons why I started studying history in the first place.
As a history student, all you do is handle information. You look for it, discuss it, re-discover and capitulate over it. I have spent countless hours clicking through digital archival collections, too large to handle in a lifetime, and probably even more thinking about how a civilization’s history essentially boils down to what we decided to remember.
Part of the reason why the Romans salted the earth in Carthage and why survivors of the Holocaust hunted down Nazis in South America to publicly put them on trial is that remembering yields power. That some stories get erased and others emphasized is why we remember Rome more than Carthage and why the Holocaust is so widely discussed.
Needless to say, my written documents are much less important than those historical documents. But, on a personal level, it felt at least a little bit like my own library of Alexandria had been burned to the ground. I write a lot – university documents, school notes, fiction, articles, columns, random notes and thoughts and probably a few other genres I’m already starting to forget.
However many documents I will be able to hunt down, some of them will be lost. It sucks a bit, if I’m being honest, and it would probably suck a lot more if I weren’t so careful saving my things in more than one way. It will probably be a lesson, but I didn’t care for learning it in this way. And a part of me will probably hope that I can just simply click a number of the right buttons and this is not as much of an Alexandria as it feels like.