A media archaeologist, essayist, poet, and author of “We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World,” Brian Michael Murphy ’03 is ready to share his fascination with the concept of preservation with the world.
“The book is really about human’s relationship to technology. In the longer story of human evolution, we’ve always evolved alongside our tools. Our brains and bodies have changed. Anybody who has had a smartphone or been on social media has experienced how this can happen pretty quickly,” said Murphy. “The way I focused the book is to think about the ways that humans record data in various kinds of formats and materials, from stone to paper to microfilm and now digital.”
“We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World” explores the ever-expanding collection of human records and the systems in place to protect our most vital information against decay and destruction.
“There’s something very intense and unique about America’s relationship to preserving data. Americans are driven by curiosity and have become the most intense and obsessive preservers of data in the history of the world,” said Murphy. “Egyptians preserved things, but they didn’t have 2,600 data centers. The Egyptians’ daily lives didn’t depend upon the mummies that were preserved in the pyramids.”
According to Murphy, the “long-standing human desire to live forever” is a concept that has driven the idea of preservation.
“When you actually look at preservation, whether it’s preservation of architecture or the preservation or conservation of land against development, even the preservation in libraries, it claims to save something that’s already there, but it actually always produces new things,” said Murphy.
“Preservation creates new technologies. From the first permanent time capsules meant to last over 5,000 years, which were created in the 1930s, to the bomb-proof bunkers that were built to protect government records from nuclear destruction and the Cold War, to what I call the data complex that is in place today.”
Murphy defines the data complex as the “whole infrastructure of making all of this run – all the data centers, the fiber optic cables, the power plants that fuel all of the disposable mobile technology.”
“It all becomes very mundane, almost invisible. So what I did in the book was take something that we’re not consciously aware of and not only bring it up to consciousness to familiarize it, but to say this all has a history, and it’s actually a fairly recent history,” said Murphy.
While the book idea originated from his dissertation at The Ohio State University, Murphy wanted to “make a book that wasn’t just for academics” but designed for a broader audience.
“The way I wrote the book was really something that I learned at Capital. When I was at Capital, I studied poetry very intensely and worked closely with Dr. Kevin Griffith. One of the things I learned from him was the power to make familiar things seem strange and the ability to twist mundane thoughts or actions in a way that makes the reader see something in a new way. You make them see it with fresh eyes. I think the spiritual part of that is that you bring the reader back into the awareness that the world is new every day,” said Murphy.
Murphy graduated in 2003 with a degree in English from Capital and then continued his academic journey at OSU, where he earned both his master’s degree and Ph.D. He describes his experiences at both Capital and OSU as “very transformative.”
“I was the first in my family to earn a four-year degree. I had a lot to figure out as a student, but I always felt really supported,” said Murphy. “I found I had everything I needed to be extremely successful, and so for me, college was like a wonderland.”
Murphy will return to campus on September 13 for a reading from “We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World.” The event is sponsored by the English Department, and all are welcome to attend at 4 p.m. in the Convergent Media Center 121.
For more information about Brian Michael Murphy, Ph.D., visit https://www.brianmichaelmurphy.com/.
To learn more about Capital’s English Department, visit https://www.capital.edu/academics/majors-and-minors/english/.
For a chance to win a copy of “We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World,” follow https://www.instagram.com/capitalu/.
To read excerpts from “We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World,” visit https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/panic-library and https://www.wsj.com/articles/data-storage-is-reaching-the-limits-of-physics-11661435363.
To listen to Brian Michael Murphy, Ph.D., on the Wall Street Journal’s Tech News Briefing podcast, visit https://www.wsj.com/podcasts/tech-news-briefing/could-new-storage-techniques-preserve-the-worlds-plethora-of-data/33d59ee5-eb0f-4233-95f0-12376a5ba412.