About this time last weekend, I took a long hard look at my email account from the University of Someplace Else and decided that it was time I created an electronic archive of the various emails there, so I'd have my own record, just in case. I made it to about the 2007 emails before calling it quits, largely because of my own discomfort in learning that the archive was at this point 260 pages long and I had gone through less than a third of the total body of emails. I'll do the rest later, I told myself.
But I didn't know... just how little... time I had left.
This morning, I found out that some time between yesterday and now, the University had deleted my account. Which was fair enough--I mean, I haven't been a student there for five months now. But I wish they had the simple courtesy to have given me some sort of warning about it. I had to send out a half dozen "change your address book emails," which was annoying. (These were mostly people I had needed to contact between the transition from Someplace Else to Blank, which meant I didn't have my Blank email address yet when I contacted them. I really should have told them to go over to the new one, but there didn't seem to be any pressing need. Until now, when there was nothing but press.) And I'm sure I missed someone important, but I guess there's no way of knowing.
What really bugs me though is that the reason I started the archiving project to begin was because I wanted to preserve those emails, as a record of who I was. And all that information is gone into the internet ether. I saved a lot of it, I guess, but if I had just known what was coming, I could have kept it all. Sigh.
I guess there's two lessons here. First, a "carpe diem" sort of thing: don't put off archiving until tomorrow what you want to archive today. Second: in my digital media course last term, one of the motifs that kept coming in the scholarly papers was that people are unaware that the records they leave on the internet persist. Well, this case shows that the opposite is true as well--things you think are set in stone can disappear just as quickly. The whole incident has shown to me just how fragile my online records are. Facebook pictures, other email addresses, even this blog-- I don't "own" any of that, and it could disappear overnight and there'd be nothing I could do.
And given the ominous rumblings my computer's been making, even making stored copies may not be sufficient. Back it up, boys and girls, 'cause those eggs shoudn't be in one basket.
And for the record, yes, I do understand that I was naive to believe these emails would always be there in the first place. Still, nothing irretrievable was lost (so far as I know, knock on electrodes), and an Important Lesson was learned.
*UPDATE* As my brother pointed out, I should really mention that after I tried again an hour or so later, the email address was working again. But I maintain that *overall* point re: the tenuous nature of electronically stored information still stands.