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Brislen on Tech: The old days

Paul Brislen, Editor. 04 June 2021, 2:04 pm

I received a call from an investor the other day. He was after any insight I could give into the history of Indranet - a company that promised compressed-air engines, a supercomputer on every desk for $10,000 and a mesh network to connect everything together.

It was run by a colourful Frenchman by the name of Louis Arnoux and I wrote many a story about him and the company's insatiable appetite for money and its seeming inability to produce any actual results.

A quick search in the archive at Computerworld returned no results. That's odd, I thought. What about the New Zealand Herald? I know Peter Griffin covered it all at the same time. Ah, nearly 300 hits. That's more like it. Sadly, none of them are actually about Indranet - if anyone from NZME is reading, your search capability is badly flawed and seems to search for individual letters or the star signs of those involved in the story or something else entirely.

Eventually I forced the Herald site to cough up some 40-odd stories from 2001 or so about the company and it all came flooding back.

But all the copy written for Idealog, Unlimited Magazine, Computerworld, National Business Review - it's almost all gone. The archives for each of these publications is either missing entirely or severely curtailed.

And it's not just Indranet and it's not just tech stories - it's our history. Our archive of the recent past is mostly a trail of breadcrumbs, broken links and hints at what went before.

History Deleted

When COVID hit and a number of publishers folded, the archive of news and articles was largely deleted in the rush to exit. Bauer media appears to have misplaced or destroyed decades of coverage of New Zealand's history with the closing of The Listener, North and South and other publications. Former Herald editor Gavin Ellis called for an immediate inquiry into whether anything can be saved but the lack of coverage since then is deafening in its silence.

My friend Carl is a photographer who spent 20 years with the airforce and took thousands of photographs of men and women serving here and overseas, yet says a large percentage of the photos he's taken have gone following a repurposing of the server they were stored on. Digital photography might well be the death of the photo archive, he says, and I think there's definitely some cause for concern there.

Why is this important? Websites can be updated and changed, or shut down completely, but media coverage should be accessible online. It's important if only so we can keep tabs on what's going on around us. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and all that. The role of media is largely to report the comings and goings and be available as the "paper of record" but if the record says "Ooops, that story has gone" then how can we hold those in power to account?

Carl's photos form a uniquely New Zealand view of the world through the lens of his camera at a time and in various places where he was the only one to act as witness. It is vital we don't forget these things or allow them to slip from our grasp.

There is some good news on this front. The National Library and Archives New Zealand have been collecting newspapers, magazines and books for generations - hopefully their budget for digital archiving is vast and extensive and enables us to produce searchable content that will be available to all.

But for those stories published in the dawn of the new internet era we may be too late. Sure, there's the Wayback Machine and some stories are kept tucked away in PDFs and the like, but for much of our early digital history it's as if none of it ever happened.

 


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