Though I am by no means anti-technology, neither am I on the cutting edge of the computer state of the art. Within the past 2 months I purchased a new computer after the one I had been using for a number of years got one glitch too many. I also purchased a new printer/fax/copier/scanner for similar reasons.
And so, I now have a working Adobe Acrobat program (the software for which I was able to procure at a generous discount on account of my status as a higher education faculty member).
My filing cabinets have been getting loaded, and I really, really do not wish to purchase another one because, being that my wife and I are inveterate packrats, there really isn't too much space around here to accommodate another.
And so, I am now archiving paper files into PDF documents. I have already freed up almost 6 inches of file drawer capacity by PDFing some of our credit card statement files. But that gets boring, and besides, I really don't want to overburden the secretaries in my Department with the task of emptying the shredder machine too many times in one week.
And so, I have taken it upon myself to PDF my Letters to the Editor files from the past 40 years. I have written Letters to the Editors of diverse publications. There were periods when I wrote almost every week (and, there were periods, like when I was in law school, where my letterwriting time was very limited). I still write Letters to Editors. My publication rate is about 1 in 3 or 4, which is quite good. And I have saved just about every one of them (I even retain the copies of the ones which do not get published).
The first 9 years' worth were the most difficult because I didn't have regular access to copy machines at the time, so I kept the actual newspaper clippings (which by now are all good and yellow), and the carbon paper copies. In most instances, using the document feeder on my scanner was out of the question; I had to individually lay each item on the scanner glass. But the next batch is a bit easier, inasmuch as most have already been copied to 8.5 x 11 sheets, and, with a few exceptions here and there, can just be arranged in order and fed through the scanner via the document feed. I have freed up about an inch of file drawer capacity on the project thus far.
A number of interesting observations:
First, the progression of the technological state of the art available to me is apparent. When I was in high school, it was all typewriter and carbon paper. And, environmentalist that I am, I did then, and do now, use the blank reverse sides of whatever 8.5" x 11" sheets I have for my copies. What was on the reverse (or, rather, the obverse) of my copies is often interesting.
Along somewhat similar lines, once I started working for the Government, I started keeping more complete documentation of my Letters to the Editor (e.g., background documents, articles which inspired the LTEs, notes, et cetera), paralleling the recordkeeping habits which I, as a government bureaucrat, learned as a matter of survival.
Most interesting of all, however, is the metamorphosis of my sociopolitical views over the past 40 years. Reading some of what I wrote in high school, I come off as a flaming liberal. But I have shifted my world view, as I matured, experienced more interactions beyond my suburban middle class upbringing, and got burned a few times by the real agendas of those whom I naively accepted as allies. Case in point: After Israel was attacked in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, many self-professed tolerant and reasonable humanitarians showed their true colors.
Which all begs the basic question: Might some of this stuff embarrass me? Do I really wish to preserve it for posterity? Shouldn't I burn some of those old letters?
I did think long and hard about it. And, after serious deliberation, I decided that yes, I will preserve my Letters to the Editor. Moses himself had flaws which are mentioned in the Torah (which actually gives that document some credibility; would the writings of a Chavez or a Castro or an Obama be so open about such shortcomings?). While I have no current plans to publicly post my correspondence with editors on the Internet, I do wish to keep an accurate record. There are too many people today who seek to rewrite history. I will take the risk of having my liberal past uncovered. I would rather be called a liberal than be thought of as deficient in my credibility.
Labels: Letters to the Editor, Preservation, Technology