More discussions yesterday about the somewhat antediluvian world of records management. Something struck me…

In times of yore when documents were printed on the back end of a goat, they were expensive. The only things that were created had significant filtering before creation because of the cost of vellum and scribes and that lovely gold ink.

Then came paper. Costs dropped, but as the office emerged as a thing at scale in the 19th Century the cost of created documents was still a thing, especially when typing was a skill that required specialist labour and we needed filling clerks and couriers and archivists and what have you. Creating a document involved some sort of decision about employing and deploying resource.

And then came the PC, and all those people who were seen to be unnecessary, unproductive human resource were rapidly dispatched at the very time when the visible cost of creation of stuff dropped to zero.

But it was ok because computer storage was expensive. Very expensive. And so inbox quotas and file storage quotas became the lever by which control over the volume of stuff was implemented. That wasn’t by design, in the same way that the costs of vellum or typists weren’t by design. In fact we saw those costs as things we needed to get rid of.

Today the last barrier to controlling the exponential growth of stuff is gone. The storage and distribution of digital content is basically zero. If you are paying more than that then a) you are doing it wrong and more importantly b) your staff will find the free ways anyway.

Today we are at a strange point. Old models of records management – what it is that is laid down for posterity as a “true” account of what has happened in an organisation are broken. There is too much stuff being created, and not enough clarity about the difference between collaborative working, stores and retrieval of information as part of day to day working, and documents of record. Outside of the world of media, the concept of “publishing” a thing is less than clear. In the world of media digital means that “publishing” is also becoming increasingly unclear (in comparison to the world of Six o’Clock news bulletins and morning and evening editions of newspapers).

What is more, the boundaries of an organisation’s information are now porous. We work in collaboration with people inside and outside, increasingly on platforms that are owned by neither party. I frequently hear people bemoaning how they have to find colleagues on services like LinkedIn convinced that a “corporate” service should be the place to discover others, when our virtual teams span customers, suppliers and contractors.

Within all of this technologists claim that the next technology will be the thing that solves these crises of information overload and nuclear data waste. And yet the technologist ignore that there was control in a time of scarcity, and when resources cost money we had dedicated professionals responsible for managing and controlling them. When things are “free” we stop investing human resource to manage them, because that’s inefficient and then we become overwhelmed and inefficient as a result. That’s a very odd paradox.


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