Letter writing the old fashioned way is passé. So we have been told. And there is no reason for us, slaves of the electronic mail era, to contest this claim. With immediacy of interactions the order of the day and server space a concern, history be damned. So most emails, some of which may have historical value (at least the popular type written by regular people like us), will go to the trashcan unceremoniously at the click of the mouse to make room for new ones. Neither would most of us think of taking out hardcopies and saving them for posterity.
Anticipating the loss, the Powerhouse Museum and Windows Live Hotmail in Sydney has launched an initiative to archive some of the country’s emails to give future Australians a glimpse of life in 2008. To drive home the point, the museum’s curator compared two obsolete floppy disks to a 4,000-year-old clay tablet that contained a receipt for livestock. The markings on the tablet are still visible, while the museum no longer had a computer that could read the 5-1/4” or 8” disks. Patrick French’s latest biography of V.S. Naipaul will possibly be one of the last of its kind that draws information from letters written in longhand.
But the museum is only open for the Aussies. We must have our own museum to store all that e-talk between, say, Bollywood heroines and cricket stars, or rival politicians. But soon, we are sure, the government will come up with some de-classification timeframe and lock it all up. And, eons later, we will read: According to the declassified emails….