Websites and Lost Culture

I had something of an obsession with preserving history. It’s why I am constantly using photography to document my life. (And was doing so back when we had to use expensive film) A few months ago I wrote about how emulation can help us preserve our culture when it comes to video games. We’re in a weird place right now in our culture – everything is digital. If there were to be some sort of catastrophic apocalypse, any aliens that came to Earth would think we stopped inventing stuff in the Industrial Revolution.  (Only a slight exaggeration) Even if we just look at humanity – if something were to wipe out technology (see many sci-fi stories including the manga/anime Nausicaa and Trigun) all the information we know – all the petabytes on the net would be inaccessible and lost forever.  But if we dial it back a bit and forget about those doomsday scenarios – it’s important to see that culture is informed by what came before it.  (Super heroes are just modern day greek gods, and so on)  It’s why the Library of Congress collects important works of culture for preservation.

There’s a culture we’re slowly losing – that of the early internet.  Back when we had “homepages” – websites akin to the modern day blog, but with far less technology behind it. Usually it was a collection of information that an individual wanted to share – his love of cats or anime or fan fiction.  If you can visit the wayback machine at for Geocities pages you’ll see what I mean. There was something intensely personal about it – because people were just mucking about with HTML there’s a beauty to the absolute ugliness of webpages of that time.  And that beauty came from the fact that each web page was what that person thought looked amazing. Unlike today in which blogs, Tumblr, and Facebook have replaced the homepage’s function and everyone’s page looks the same.  This is more true of Facebook than the others, but even with blogs and Tumblr – the vast majority of us stick to the provided templates.  You look at a blog and say, “Ah, yes – he’s using the Kubrick.”  It’s more pleasing to the eye, but we’ve lost a little something.  And, I’m not saying that we need to go back to that – heavens knows my eyes couldn’t take it.  But it’s important to preserve – just like the quaint “movies” of the 1910s.  It’s important to see where we’ve come from to appreciate where we are.

Some of these ideas were already percolating in my brain because last night I deleted Andrew Laine’s blog.  He hadn’t posted to it in years and my rented server can only take so much punishment before a crash.  So, I’d rather not waste bandwidth to spammers. In a way, I was contributing to the problem.  I just removed an artifact from the net that contained his ideas and views for a certain period of time.  Before I deleted it, I had to make sure I wasn’t guilty.  So I checked the wayback machine.  There it was.  Good, it had been archived.

But what got me to write this post was an article on Wired about websites that HAD NOT been deleted.  It made me so happy to see that some sites still existed despite all the odds.  It is QUITE jarring to see some of these sites since they capture a certain design aesthetic from the 90s and early 2000s.  Especially fun were the CERN and Dole election websites. The sparseness of the Space Jam website was jarring in a different way. Sure, the graphics were crappy compared to today, but more than that it was astounding to see a movie website that wasn’t full of whiz-bang effects. Of course, that’s because we were all on dial-up back then, but you can’t find movie websites that are so bare nowadays.

There are WAY too many websites out there for or the Library of Congress to archive them all, but I really hope there is an effort to find examples of websites every few years to show us how website design has changed throughout the years and to preserve one of the most ephemeral elements of our culture.