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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: 2) by scruffybeard on Friday May 30 2014, @08:14PM

    by scruffybeard (533) on Friday May 30 2014, @08:14PM (#49277)

    I am not sure I see the problem. If this hypothetical future historian digs up an area of NY City from the year 3500 AD, and finds a load of SD cards (some future incarnation), is that not evidence of the existance of that civilization? Given sufficient time to analyze the artifacts, would he not discover that they are used to store information, and then begin the process of recovering that data? As an analogy, we didn't understand hieroglyphs for a long time, but we knew they were a written language, used by ancient Egyptians. It took a lot of hard work, and a lucky discovery, to decode that language.

    If I read this article correctly, the author is proposing some kind of forward compatibility of all data. Is that practical or even possible?

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 30 2014, @08:32PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 30 2014, @08:32PM (#49285)

    "the author is proposing some kind of forward compatibility of all data. Is that practical or even possible?"

    It is possible, but no one will pay to have it done.

    Paper requires nothing other than a stable inks, environment and the correct non-acidic base material. There
    are minimal ongoing costs.

    There is no financial incentive to preserve the petabytes of information being created today except for the
    media companies, and they have figured out that the copyright process takes care of that for them through
    the Library of Congress, who has been saddled with keeping everything submitted to them for copyright
    protection in perpetuity and is now smothering under that load.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 31 2014, @01:13AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 31 2014, @01:13AM (#49381)

      Paper [with] non-acidic base material

      The cost to have chosen stable paper stock would have been insignificant to publishers/printers.
      It's the MBA mentality in spades.
      Instead, the vast majority of books were printed on paper that self-destructs. []
      The previous generation's data on that paper isn't any more immortal that the digital stuff.

      -- gewg_