GitHub Arctic Vault, Code and Memory
A couple of days ago I was surfing GitHub when I stumbled across something that caught my interest. A little notification box was telling me that I earned a badge for being an “Arctic Code Vault Contributor”.
I had no idea what it was, so I googled it and found out about the GitHub Archive Program. Basically, it is GitHub’s plan to preserve open source software for a long long time. The Arctic Code Vault is just a part of the Archive Program, specifically aimed at storing data for 1000 years from now in a decommissioned coal mine near the North Pole.
GitHub first put the most important open source software there, then, on 2 February 2020, added to the storage every active1 GitHub repository.
Some of my repositories are there.
I get a strange feeling when I think that something mine is stored 250 meters deep in the permafrost and is supposed to stay there for at least 1000 years. That my name will be there for at least 1000 years.
To date, this will be by far the most long-lasting memory of me. I hardly believe anything else about me will survive that long. A bunch of (bad?) lines of code will be the only things left to define me.
I want to draw a parallel with a historical tradition. Emperors used to build commemorative statues to show their power and to be remembered after their death. I am not a historian, however I suppose that a lot of these statues have either gone lost or destroyed or damaged. Probably some emperors are unknown today because everything about them got lost.
On the other hand, our code will survive for at least 10 centuries, probably much more. Powerful emperors’ memories have been more ephemeral.
However, they were far more suggestive, evocative, strong. Compare the evocative power of a mighty celebrative statue that portrays the ideal representation of somebody with a dry, emotionless collection of bits.
We might feel like the most enduring memory of us will be pretty boring and inaccurate at describing who we were. We might have hoped for leaving behind something else, something more meaningful. But is it really so?
You can think of the Arctic Code Vault as a giant, secure, resistant museum, and something yours is stored inside it. It is thrilling to think that in the distant future somebody may enter this museum and take a look at some of your work.
Your name will be remembered alongside artifacts you produced.
Sure, code may not be the best medium to portray one’s memory, however I think it can say at least something about the author’s personality. For instance, a clean piece of code reveals a certain attitude in its author, whereas a messy piece of code another one. The simple fact that you are a programmer tells something about you.
Moreover, as opposed to a celebrative statue, your code is far more authentic: you probably wrote it for some inner reason, not as a way to be remembered. In particular, the fact that you built that exact thing says a lot about you, it defines you2.
Maybe it is not an inadequate way to be remembered, after all.
I’d love to hear your point of view on the topic: just email me if you want to reach me out. If an interesting discussion arises I’ll post it here in the discussion paragraph, so everyone can read it.
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If you want to point out errors you can email me or open an issue on GitHub.
This is the first post of the blog (the introduction post doesn’t count, and anyway I start counting at 0 :P) and I’m pretty happy about it! I hope you liked it too.
Thanks for reading!
“It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you” – I could not miss the opportunity to quote this pearl from Batman Origins, but my article and I may lose credibility so I had put it here in the footnotes so less people see it. ↩