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When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future
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When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  160 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Our memory gives the human species a unique evolutionary advantage. Our stories, ideas, and innovations--in a word, our "culture"--can be recorded and passed on to future generations. Our enduring culture and restless curiosity have enabled us to invent powerful information technologies that give us invaluable perspective on our past and define our future. Today, we stand ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Bloomsbury Press (first published June 16th 2015)
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Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When a book discusses the Sumerian cuneiform, ancient Greek mnemonics, Gutenberg’s press, Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, and the Internet Archive, you know it's good. ...more
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great primer on theories of personal and collective memory, as well as the evolution of our relationship to knowledge and information. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about collective memory, so much of the book was already familiar to me, but I still found that Rumsey framed the issues in new and interesting ways that helped me to think about them from different angles. I do wish that the book had gone a little further into depth on the topic of digital memory in particular, though.
Teo Mechea
Definitely worth reading, but I would have liked to see more writing about future scenarios, as the title suggests. Instead, more than half of the book focuses on the past and even if there is valuable info there, I feel like those collected pieces of history are too unfocused. The author jumps from the Alexandria Library to Montaigne and the Library of Congress trying to make her point but fails to connect these on a deeper than a superficial level.
I feel like she was trying to wrap up the conc
Mackenzie Brooks
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Assigned this book for my born digital archives class. We skipped over the more science-y chapters, but lots of great thought-provoking stuff about preservation for people who aren't librarians. ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Seems like I'm a sucker for books like these. The meta of books & repositories of information, and longevity and cultural memory beyond years and even decades. ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent commentary and history of our past and what our future may hold.
No spoilers below, but I will quote some memorable passages from the book itself. There is no particular theme or thread to each of them, but they are the ones that "spoke" to me the clearest and most succinctly. A more complete list of some others that I thought were especially profound can be provided on request.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never w
Daniel M.
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
I got this book thinking that it would be smart to read about “digital memories” from someone who has thought about this for a while. Rumsey is a historian from Harvard and the Library of Congress, working on digital collecting and curation. She’s in the middle of this complex area full of ideas, technologies, and practices. Rumsey knows a lot about this area. What does she know?

The thing is... the book is full of good ideas, but they’re sort of strung out like pearls in a somewhat confusing te
Cullen Haynes
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Over 40,000 years ago, humans discovered a way to cheat death. They transferred their thoughts, dreams, fears and hopes to physical materials that did not die”. Rumsey’s opening to her book paints a harrowing picture of our race, and highlights what makes us different from all other sentient beings...the want, no, need to preserve our own history.

‘When we are no more’ explores this need throughout history, from the burning of the great library of Alexandria to the 20 petabytes of data on the In
Jay Maxfield
Firstly I would like to point out that this book has some exceptional interesting ideas and clear insights in the subject of data storage in the digital age - and what some of the problems are that surround storage for the long future ahead.
However the title of the book is misleading as the first 5 out of 10 chapters of the book deal with mankind's history of data accumulation and storage and has little in the way of discussing digital memory - I am assuming these chapters are use to show that b
Neil H
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
After reading this straight after Re-engineering Humanity. The optimism is tempered with consideration of our current malaise of information and attention manipulation. Abbey write happily about how information rendered into our short, long term memory, it's categories of inherent worth as differentiated by our ancestors. How the evolution of teleological thoughts defines and promotes action are paradoxically replaced by the proliferation of science and its endeavours to understand and manipulat ...more
Joseph Carrabis
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful tour-de-force of how digitalia is changing information values. Forget how it's changing information (an amusing statement once you've read the book), the book is about how what we value as information is changing. It's also an excellent history of how and why we as a species developed memory devices (cave paintings to server farms) and what their use meant to us, how they empowered us, what they granted us, and most importantly, what they denied us and where they
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This wasn't the "How to Preserve Memories" guide I was looking for.

153...thanks to the distributed nature of the web it's easier than ever to be a collector (researcher)
9-11 testimonies ... early crowdsourcing
1st digital collection acquired by the LOC
157... Jefferson ... make lots of copies and spread them around as insurance against loss.
OTOH, having too much can be as bad as having too little. (eg, Snowden's NSA revelations)
165...Internet Archive
Curtis Bozif
Aug 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, technology
A surprisingly interesting book on the history and future of cultural memory. As a visual artist and someone who has worked as a cultural heritage imaging professional in a library at a major university for over twelve years, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone working in libraries, museums, and the arts, especially if they're involved in cultural heritage imaging and digital repositories. ...more
Trevor Owens
See my book review in American Archivist ...more
Dan Gorman
Jul 18, 2016 rated it liked it
This is an earnest if not 100% revelatory pitch for historians to develop a serious rationale for and rules for creating digital archives. The overarching call to save as much data as possible, while developing a framework to understand said data (MEMORY, not mere HOARDING of data), will be familiar to those who've read major digital humanities publications, or those who follow scholars like Johanna Drucker, Miriam Posner, Roy Rosenzweig, etc. Yet Rumsey writes beautifully and she introduces the ...more
Jeff Zell
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: digital
Rumsey, Abby Smith. When We Are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping our Future. Bloomsbury Press, 2016.

Rumsey observes that humans are unique among the species of this world. Humans alone have the ability to extend their memories and presence. Humans learned to use other instruments in order to increase memories: Images on the walls of caves, pottery, written images on clay tablets, words on papyrus and paper, and the capturing of sound and images through the phonograph and photography. Now,
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memory
I was disappointed by this book, perhaps because it is rooted so strongly in a library paradigm. About two thirds of the book trace the evolution of memory from what humans could hold in their head to an external objects in the form of writing, drawing, and sculpture. Written texts were then accumulated and became the first libraries. These physical manifestations of collective memory were both reflections of, resources for the evolution of cultural identity. Eventually the Renaissance and Enlig ...more
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
"Today, we stand at the very edge of a vast, uncharted digital landscape, where our collective memory is stored in ephemeral bits and bytes and lives in air-conditioned server rooms. What sources will historians turn to in 100, let alone 1,000 years to understand our own time if all of our memory lives in digital codes that may longer be decipherable?" from the publisher's website

After seeing When We Are No More by Abbey Smith Rumsey on NetGalley I couldn't stop thinking about it--the topic was
May 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I know the author slightly. Or anyway, we worked in the same organization years ago and had a nodding acquaintance.

I am sort of a practitioner in the sense that I have some responsibility for creation, acquisition, preservation of and then later access to digital collection materials in a cultural heritage institution as a librarian-project manager. Because of Dr. Rumsey's background at CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources), I assumed this book would include practitioners such as
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As an an archivist and technophile, Anne Smith Rumsey has crafted a thought provoking read about a present quandary. While the influx of digital media seems like a unique historical experience, she explains how the history of media (from cuneiform to scroll to handwritten books to the printing press) has lead to similarly relative increases in information and points out the philosophical, economic, and moral consequences that can be learned for humanity's collective past.

While I bought my copy a
Layla Johnston
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all information professionals. Rumsey does an excellent job weaving a narrative that is instructive and a delight to read, and her recommendations for preserving our digital heritage are on the mark. Rumsey charts the history of libraries in the Western world and the scientific understanding of personal and cultural memory to lay the groundwork for her recommendations on digital preservation. Having access to and understanding the past is of critica ...more
Richard Thompson
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author talks about how every revolution in communications technology has caused huge upheaval and how with each change there has been a long period of adjustment and tinkering before we've found effective ways to deal with the new information paradigm. The digital memory (and Smith Rumsey sees all recording technologies from cave paintings to the Internet as forms of memory) is no different. The amount of information is much greater, but we now have faster and more powerful ways to deal with ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it liked it
2016. 025 SmithRum03/2016.Nonfiction. 'What is the future of human memory? What will people know about us when we are gone?' Research Notes are from page 180 -229! Very readable, insightful.. quotes: 'our sense of well-being arises directly from our ability to imagine moving forward, into the future, with purpose meaning and some measure of choice over our fate.'pg 132 in describing Alzheimers' . The fear of Cultural Amnesia.
The Library of Congress has archives of Twitter.. Google spent 21billi
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, library
I work in an academic library and we read this book as our summer staff book club pick. We....were not impressed. Mostly because none of us felt like Rumsey did what she seemingly set out to do in the title and description of the book. She tells a lot of disconnected stories that I don't even know how they fit together or add to her thesis (which is also unclear). I went through the whole thing thinking she needed both a better outline and editor.

The vignettes are disjointed and don't seem to co
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
What impact will the age of big data have on our collective memory, and thus on our culture and ways of dealing with the future? How will we store, edit, and use it? We have weathered technological innovations for data collection and storage in the past. We'll do so in the future.
Despite some good insights, this was a tedious read. At only 176 pages, the book is overwritten. It took 10 pages, for example, on the life and ills of French writer Montaigne to reach a point that his writings were an
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
When We Are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future by Abby Smith Rumsey is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early December during a dull moment on trivia night. I admit, I was drawn to this book by its second-glance blurred pixel cover.

An amazing, lengthy, anthropological loose timeline of data having to do with communication and human progress. Utterly insightful and fascinating.
Mar 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Some beautifully written and moving moments in the middle chapters, especially stories about how memory can go awry. But kind of scattered overall. The concluding chapter reads as though Rumsey meant to kill her darlings but relented and put them all in one chapter instead. Finally, this book takes for granted that solutions for the future of digital memory lie in Western knowledge traditions, without making a convincing case that this is so.
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it

A thought provoking exploration of cultural memory and how it will survive in the digital age. The author doesn't damn digital information. That ship has left the dock. Her goal is remind us of how we must find ways to preserve the flood of information now bombarding us.
Hom Sack
Jun 15, 2016 rated it liked it
As a historian, the author presents an interesting and engaging account, but she lacks a comprehensive understanding of digital technology. Consequently, I think her concerns are much ado about nothing.
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
you can just rock me to sleep tonight!
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