The archives of the heart

In 2015, exploring Teshima, I came across Christian Boltanski’s Les Archives du Cœur. Inside a small beautiful cabin overlooking the bay, you’ll find a work of art that permanently houses recordings of heartbeats of people throughout the world. Boltanski has been recording these heartbeats since 2008; you can record your own heartbeat here and you can listen to the beats of other visitors who’ve visited this place in Teshima. Boltanski’s primary purpose in art has been to remind us of our own mortality. When measured like this, our heartbeats represent not only the passing of time, but our past and our experiences as they become coded into the pace of the rhythms. We like to think our own beats carry a code that’s unique in the world, shaped by our experiences. When we leave our heartbeats behind in Teshima, an island in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, we’d like to think it’s left behind forever. It’s the first time you think of leaving your heartbeats behind in the world, independent of any agency or hospital that’s recorded yours before, and has owned yours before.

I’ve been leaving my heartbeats behind on the web too. And for the past few years, I’ve been working to archive the heartbeats I’ve posted on various online services. It took me a little bit of trial-and-error to figure out which service to host these on. I eventually just picked Github, because 1) git respects all your original file formats; 2) you can keep a revision history of your data as it grows and becomes richer over time; 3) you can easily push to multiple remote locations to distribute your data and keep it in sync, meaning if Github ever were to go away, you’d have your data in other places too.

Usually, I back up my data privately, because in a few cases, they reveal private information like the email addresses of my connections. Whenever possible, like with ( and my Twitter history (archive-twitter), I’ve been putting them up openly. They were open to begin with, so why not keep it that way?

This brings me to my Tumblr blog, which I used from 2007 to 2017. Tumblr was a beautiful platform for so many reasons. It wasn’t just a blog to me – because there were other blogs and tools out there to host content. At the time, I’d also already had a WordPress blog going. But I used Tumblr for my photos, my early NYC tech scene posts and my foursquare posts. This is largely because Tumblr was New York tech and New York tech was Tumblr.

All the changes at Tumblr the last few years, with Yahoo’s acquisition and with David Karp leaving got me thinking about the great connections and memories Tumblr helped me build, but also once more about the mortality of my work online. I researched a few different backup tools, and eventually found one, tb-ng, that worked well enough to pull the hi-res photos and post content (it won’t pull your likes and reblogs). I pulled all my content out: archive-tumblr. If you don’t want just the archives, but to host them back up on a live blog, you can import your old Tumblr into WordPress like I did.

It was beautiful to take a few minutes to step back through that time.

I started looking around for other tools that could do this for me on other old services, like Flickr, and I came across Archive Team. They’re a group of hackers that, in their words, are:

[…] dedicated to saving our digital heritage. Since 2009 this variant force of nature has caught wind of shutdowns, shutoffs, mergers, and plain old deletions – and done our best to save the history before it’s lost forever. Along the way, we’ve gotten attention, resistance, press and discussion, but most importantly, we’ve gotten the message out: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

Between efforts like this one and the Internet Archive, it makes me happy to know many other people want to preserve our history like this and to save our creative work from obsolescence and to have us all remembered. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The beauty of the internet is that many different people from all over the world can work together to help you preserve your art and your work. And, depending on the tools used, you can save copies of your data in islands all around the world – resilient to any single node falling over, just as the internet originally intended it to be.