Emails, Internet, and Lost History


storageMadison    Huma Abedin, the confidant and deputy chief of staff for Hillary Clinton, now working on her Presidential campaign, in her deposition released recently in commenting on the server controversy said, “Mrs. Clinton…wanted to protect her personal information, ‘just like anybody who has personal email would want to keep their personal email private.” It’s an interesting quote, not because of the controversy, but because in fact it so easily expresses and assumes a near unanimous consensus that exists in much of modern society that holds that there is a dividing line between personal and professional correspondence. In Clinton’s case, the argument of course has to do with matters of state, while for the rest of us everything is often totally blurred.

I thought of this as I continued rummaging through the ACORN archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society. There would be few files these days called “Correspondence,” given the dominance of email. In the files, I read letters to me from Ralph Nader, Paul Wellstone, and Bill Clinton among others that I had long forgotten existed. And, trust me on this my files – our files – were none too perfect, but such correspondence would largely be lost in the mess and mayhem of unfathomable, untraceable email these days, as Abedin notes about Hillary Clinton wouldn’t they?

Working with the Wisconsin archivists they came to our union hall in Baton Rouge some months ago and in three days sorted through more than one-hundred boxes stored there in order to ship back 38 of them to the archives. Dealing with paper is no treat. Looking at the ACORN archives, nothing has been sorted and available really since 2008. Of more than 300 linear feet or boxes of material only three were of photographs and half of those were more random than anything else, yet we all have thousands of photos on our computers in some willy-nilly fashion. I looked at various internal communications tools we used, Vamonos for leaders, the ACORNizer for organizers, the Motley Cow reports from the research department. I saw a note about our purchasing computers in 1984 and then of course by 1990 email ubiquitous, so over the last 20 or 25 years so many of these kinds of communication would be electronic. How can those be accessed? Who is retaining such records? And, what about the way we all communicate using websites, Facebook, and other tools?

All of our footprints are in sand, but modern communication potentially puts much of it literally in the clouds. Is this the end of history when there are few and increasingly eliminated records available for review except from the highest and mightiest?

What about the rest of us? Are we destined to live in a Trump-type world where we invent ourselves every day and there are no facts or solid ground where we stand?