I made my first digital archive on a Windows PC in my parents’ bedroom.
I was a young fan of the Japanese anime Sailor Moon. My introduction to the show was through the English dubbed version that aired on Cartoon Network and an elementary school friend who supplied me with her copies of the translated manga. When I learned there was a dedicated online community with an extensive network of fan-made websites, filled with page after page of images, gifs and content I had never seen, my life changed.
I’d spend hours after school scouring fan-made Sailor Moon websites – not because there were that many I actually knew of, but because the image-heavy pages took several minutes to load. I quickly learned how to save files to my parent’s computer and began pasting downloaded images into a Microsoft Paint file. I didn’t know anything about building or publishing a website, and my computer skills were limited as a kid experiencing computers and the internet for the first time. All I knew was Internet Explorer, MS Paint, and Solitaire.
I’m not really sure why I felt compelled to download anything I found on the internet instead of just revisiting websites when I wanted to. Perhaps I didn’t want to spend another ten minutes waiting for the pages to load again. But in my child mind, I probably also saw saving an image as making it more tangible, that the files somehow belonged to me now. And, in a way, they did – I could edit, cut, paste, and print them out as much as my parents’ printer ink budget would allow. As long as I remembered to save the images, I didn’t have to worry about them disappearing one day.
As an adult, I place more importance on preserving digital media and memories. I admit I’ve always had a hard time letting things go—I’ve saved almost every handwritten letter and birthday card I’ve been given in my life. But what about the life and memories we make online? What about old computers, hard drives, cell phones, and social media accounts filled with personal photos and messages from lost and distant loved ones? These are memories that aren’t easily or obviously preserved.
Though my childhood computer is probably long gone, along with my digital collection of saved Sailor Scouts, I realize some 20 years later how vital, and fragile, digital memory is. With the eventual closure of websites like GeoCities, Angelfire, MySpace, and so many more, most of my earliest memories of the internet would be erased if it weren’t for the Internet Archive. Even as a child, I realized that digital memory is even more ephemeral than the physical media of previous generations.
As a member of a generation that grew up online, I am thankful that a large part of my digital memory doesn’t have to disappear forever. This is what drew me to the Internet Archive, and compelled me to support fundraising efforts to ensure a sustainable future for projects like the Wayback Machine, GifCities, and so much more. If you also find value in preserving digital memory and making it accessible for future generations, I hope you’ll consider donating to support our work before our year-end fundraising campaign comes to a close. Your matched donation will go a long way toward keeping our collections online for years to come.
Christina Humphreys joined the philanthropy team at the Internet Archive in 2021. Her interest in early internet art and aesthetics brought her to the Internet Archive, where many now defunct websites have been saved through the Wayback Machine. Along with reliving the internet of her childhood, she loves exploring the various collections of art, film, and books preserved on archive.org. She views the Internet Archive as a vital cultural resource, creating an accessible future for information and materials that would otherwise be locked away in a vault or lost to history.