As the world slowly moves towards a 100% digital existence, and increasingly consumes their information online, we run the risk of destroying our own legacy. Consider this hypothetical future narrative:
Historians are at a loss to explain the demise of the first pan-human civilisation, as although they agree that the populous dwindled and went almost extinct at around AD 3500, there seems to be no surviving written historical records that can be dated any later than circa AD 2000.
It can only be assumed that around this time, that there was a sudden uptake of illiteracy, maybe caused by a new religion or global-governmental policy. There are surviving references to an organization or group known as the Inter Nets. We can only guess at what this actually was, but the commonly accepted theory is that it was actually some type of wearable mesh harness that prevented humans of this era from actually writing anything down.
Sound ridiculous? I'm not so sure. As information is continually and fully migrated from the printed page and on to the Internet we lose the permanency that a book or ancient scroll brings. Paper and parchment when stored correctly can survive for thousands of years, and if not, the information held within can be transcribed in to replacement volumes when required. If it wasn't for the (well documented) fire that destroyed the Library of Alexandria we'd still have knowledge of the information that was contained there today.
I believe in freedom of information. It is just and correct that the common person has access to any fact or figure or historical data they require, and this access should be as easy as tapping or talking to a nearby terminal. However the downside of the digital age is that information storage has become transitory. What you were reading yesterday, may not be there today. Just try and search through the old news pages on many popular news websites and you will see how little of the actual news from previous days is preserved.
Ah, but the Internet will never die you say, it will be replaced by something bigger and better. This may be true but will all the information stored on Internet v1.0 be transferred to Internet v2.0? I doubt it. Cataclysmic events have wiped out civilisations many times before, and are sure to do so again. Without proper off-line information preservation everything we know could easily be lost to future civilisations.
Unmaintained, the infrastructure that supports and provides the Internet has a lifespan of less than 10 years, which means after the collapse of civilisation the data held on most of the web servers is unlikely to be accessible after a decade or so. Compare that to the many thousands of printed volumes in our great public libraries which will survive for many hundreds of years if stored under the right conditions. We need to keep adding to these physical archives if only to preserve the memory of who we were.
David Rosenthal discusses the last 25 years of digital preservation efforts in regards to academic journals. It's a long-standing problem and discontinued journals continue to disappear from the Internet. Paper, microfilm, and microfiche are slow to degrade and are decentralized and distributed. Digital media are quick to disappear and the digital publications are usually only in a single physical place leading to single point of failure. It takes continuous, unbroken effort and money to keep digital publications accessible even if only one person or institution wishes to retain acccess. He goes into the last few decades of academic publishing and how we got here and then brings up 4 points abuot preservation, especially in regards to Open Access publishing.
Lesson 1: libraries won't pay enough to preserve even subscription content, let alone open-access content.
[...] Lesson 2: No-one, not even librarians, knows where most of the at-risk open-access journals are.
[...] Lesson 3: The production preservation pipeline must be completely automated.
[...] Lesson 4: Don't make the best be the enemy of the good. I.e. get as much as possible with the available funds, don't expect to get everything.
He posits that focus should be on the preservation of the individual articles, not the journals as units.
(2020) Internet Archive Files Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Publisher Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
(2018) Vint Cerf: Internet is Losing its Memory
(2014) The Importance of Information Preservation