2. A second feature of hyperobjects is that they are non-local. They cannot be
pointed to a specific time and place. Every archivist will recognise this as a
property of digital records. The data that are used to process records can be
stored anywhere. They can be used anytime and in any place. This feature
already exists at the most basic level of an information object. Cloud
storage that is nowadays implemented by for example Google, Amazon and
Microsoft, chops the bitstream of information objects in different pieces
and dynamically stores and shifts each piece into different datacentres all
around the globe.
3. A third feature of hyperobjects is their different temporality. They are so
vastly distributed in time that they "force us to drop time as a neutral
container". Hyperobjects even "emit" time, just like planets do. The notion
that records transcend the timescale of a human life is basic to every
archivist and to every user of historical information. However, this feature
implies a shift from recent concepts like the Records Continuum.
Hyperobjects are no continuums. They just exist in bigger timescales and in
bigger life cycles than the ones we are familiar with.
4. Furthermore, hyperobjects are phased. That means they possess high-
dimensional phase spaces that makes it practically impossible for a human
to assess them accurately. When you think of digital information you might
think of the problems of the whereabouts of the data. In a cloud
environment, as mentioned before, they can be anywhere. There are
enormous amounts of data necessary to assess not only the whereabouts,
but also the availability, accessibility and authenticity. The content and the
whereabouts of these data may vary every nanosecond. It seems that this
characteristic can also be applied to paper records. Paper records disappear
and re-appear over time as well. For example, during the renovation of a
house in the German town of Erfurt in 2016, records were discovered that
were created during the sterilisation campaigns of the Nazi-regime.3 These
records were never destroyed. They had been available all the time. However,
they were not accessible. They were therefore unknown to the world.
Moreover, archeologists use the term "soil archive" in a comparable
5. The last property that Morton attributes to a hyperobject, is that of
interobjectivity. They are formed by relations between objects. They consist
of these objects, but they are not reduced to one. The information that
results from these relations make the hyperobject visible. What comes to
the mind of the archivist here is the keyword context.
Hyperobjects transcend human possibilities to oversee them in full. Yet they have an
enormous impact on our lives. We cannot withdraw ourselves from their influence.
The resemblance with digital records is striking. They are by their very nature
contextual. If they are managed well they transcend our own timescale. Digital data
are so vast that it is hardly possible to get a grip on their whereabouts. They are not
bound to specific locations. And their use is time- and location independent. And
records are sticky: they will influence you in any time and in any place. Digital
records also have the tendency to withdraw: once they have been made manifest,
they tend to hide again (in the cloud for example), like an octopus.
A digital hyperobject is sticky and slippery. And digital records might be part of this
hyperobject. To determine the stickiness of this octopus, we might use a familiar
word: authenticity. However: how to authenticate a data processing hyperobject?
Authenticating records of a hyperobject: towards self-authentication?
One might expect that the complex meaning of the word authenticity can be
reduced once it is related to records. However, this is not the case. The reduction of
our scope leads to something that resembles a Tardis. It looks small from the outside
but when you open it, a vast world, almost without spatial boundaries, opens. In
respect to records, the word authenticity remains sticky, slippery and does not lead
to simple and clear notions.
For example: when an archival institute digitises analog information in a correct
and legitimate way, it can be criticized for diminishing its authenticity: the loss of
the original material.4 A collection of records documenting the history of a city, can
be authentic in the strong meaning of the word. Still it can be criticized as being non-
authentic in the weak meaning of the word if the information does not represent
enough parts of the history and the present society. Another example: if a collection
of digital records is preserved in a sound, reliable way then strong authenticity is
debatable. The "original" will have to be transformed almost continually to keep the
information available and accessible.
All these examples involve paradoxes. One way to try to overcome these paradoxes is
to look at the way the verdict of "authentic" is reached and who reaches that verdict.
Authentication is a validation process leading to the conclusion that something or
someone is genuine, true and/or reliable (or not). It leads to the assumption
whether we are talking about a "Real Thing" or a "Fake". To make sense of the
enormous possibilities and contexts of authenticity the method described below
might be of use. It is an analysis of the process leading to the verdict.
Three entities are involved in the process: the authenticator, the authenticated and
the informed. The authenticated might be a human being, a group or organisation,
a physical object or a digital object. Later I will get back to the issue whether digital
information is an object at all, since it is a relevant issue in the process of
authentication. The authenticator and the informed are both agents, and can be
human beings or machines (Floridi, 2010, p. 103). The authenticator, the
authenticated and the informed might even blend into one agent.
External and internal authenticators
Authentication used to be a process that involved an external authority. This
authenticator could be of divine origine. When the authenticator is a human being,
it often is a notary, an archivist, a philologist or a leading figure in the community.
archives in liquid times
frans smit records, hyperobjects and authenticity
html, accessed 29-9-2017
4 For example: digitizing records and disposing the originals, was vehemently disputed in a Dutch newspaper
by Arnold Heertje, http://www.parool.nl/opinie/-weg-met-het-intellectuele-tekort-van-hoog-tot-
laag~a4347115/, accessed 29-9-2017