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posted by n1 on Friday May 30 2014, @05:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the we-are-not-special dept.

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.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by tibman on Friday May 30 2014, @06:15PM

    by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 30 2014, @06:15PM (#49228)

    It isn't very realistic to create a hardcopy version of the internet though. There will never be an offline hardcopy version of twitter or facebook. Photographs will probably be the big one. If people don't occasionally have hardcopy photos made then their great-grandchildren may never know what you actually looked like. Scientific knowledge IS hardcopied. Most important historical documents are hardcopied. Treating the news like it is historical documents sounds very dangerous. Some knowledge is and should be forgotten because it becomes more meaningless over time, imo.

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Ethanol-fueled on Friday May 30 2014, @06:42PM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Friday May 30 2014, @06:42PM (#49239) Homepage

    As I recall, there was at least an effort by Google to digitize (often manually) hard copies of as many books as they could, which was then later thwarted by the copyright cartels. So yes, as usual, progress is again thwarted by greedy bastards concerned only with short-term profits.

    And to head off the inevitable pedants who are going to point out that Google is evil, the benevolent nonprofit Freedom News would be thwarted in a similar manner if it were to try the same thing.

    I'm guessing that the most accurate copies of the internet are compiled and stored by national intelligence agencies.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Sir Garlon on Friday May 30 2014, @07:01PM

    by Sir Garlon (1264) on Friday May 30 2014, @07:01PM (#49249)

    Treating the news like it is historical documents sounds very dangerous.

    I think I understand your point and I respectfully disagree.

    Treating 50-year old (or 100- or 200-year-old) news articles as historical *fact* would be a mistake, as any historian could probably tell you. However, they are absolutely valuable as historical documents that illustrate how people reacted to events, what their priorities and biases were.

    I presume from your comment you've never gone to the library and taken a roll of microfilm out of the newspaper archive, threaded it into a reader, and scanned the headlines from a few decades before you were born. When I went to college the curriculum was arranged so it would have been pretty hard to graduate without having done that. Fascinating stuff. All of it, the news, the editorial page, even the advertisements, give you insight into the people of that place and time.

    [Sir Garlon] is the marvellest knight that is now living, for he destroyeth many good knights, for he goeth invisible.
    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Friday May 30 2014, @07:41PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 30 2014, @07:41PM (#49266)

      Very good point, historical news makes a perfect window into the past.

      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
    • (Score: 2) by sgleysti on Saturday May 31 2014, @12:56AM

      by sgleysti (56) on Saturday May 31 2014, @12:56AM (#49376)

      I've done this just for kicks. I think I picked one from the late 1800s/early 1900s. I was fascinated by the advertising -- it certainly isn't new.

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 31 2014, @01:03AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 31 2014, @01:03AM (#49380)

      microfilm[...]newspaper archive

      There's a big problem that was discovered with microfiche archives:
      Local libraries toss out the dead-tree stuff and ALL buy the photographed copies from the SAME company.
      That was fine until somebody discovered that the guy doing the work had skipped pages and EVERYBODY had the same stuff with the SAME screwup.

      -- gewg_