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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, Insightful) by kbahey on Friday May 30 2014, @09:06PM

    by kbahey (1147) on Friday May 30 2014, @09:06PM (#49305) Homepage

    I agree that the world's information kept digitally will cause information loss eventually.

    I wrote an article [] ten years ago about this. There are more here here [].

    Basically, can you read floppies that you created merely 15 years ago? What about cassette tapes that have voice recordings or Sinclair ZX Spectrum programs that you wrote? What about that pre-cassette audio tape from the 60s? That was merely half a century ago?

    Lately, I was pondering something related. Up to the early 20th century, whatever technology we used could be easily replicated if a widespread catastrophe happened. For example, telegraphs, trains, telephones, and even early airplanes, could all be manufactured in workshops having metal smelters, blacksmiths, carpenters, ...etc.

    But now, we are reliant on complex integrated circuits made on silicon wafers that are all pervasive. Manufacturing these is not easy. And we may have reached a point where they are recursive. We need CPUs, RAM and graphics chips to make production lines that make CPUs, RAM and graphics chips. Perhaps not in a total dependence (can't make them without earlier versions of themselves), but close.

    More to the point ...

    Stone and clay tablets preserved entire libraries, such as Library of Ashurbanipal []. It contained text as famous as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish creation story, and far far more material preserved. The same goes for Egyptian inscriptions on temples and inside tombs.

    Where is the Library of Alexandria? It was on papyrus, and it either burned away when the Romans attacked, or perished. Even paper is not durable enough to stand the test of time.

    What about the poor bits on a magnetic or memory medium? Moreover, even if they survive, will the machines that read them survive?

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  • (Score: 2) by hubie on Friday May 30 2014, @10:21PM

    by hubie (1068) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 30 2014, @10:21PM (#49333) Journal

    Even the digital data quickly disappears. Yesterday I saw the story about how "LOL" was 25 years old. That sounded too recent so I tried to do a quick search of the Usenet archive. That was an episode of futility.

    • (Score: 1) by kbahey on Friday May 30 2014, @10:30PM

      by kbahey (1147) on Friday May 30 2014, @10:30PM (#49336) Homepage

      And that is data is sort of publicly archived.

      Think about other mundane personal archivals: your bank transactions, what did you buy and for how much, photos of family and travel, emails you corresponded with people about current happenings, ...

      All this will be lost. Unlike accounting records in cuneiform from Mesopotamia, and student ostraca in hieratic from Egypt ...


    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 30 2014, @11:46PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 30 2014, @11:46PM (#49358)

      Thank Google for buying the archived data, and then getting bored like a 3 year old and dropping
      it like a toy covered in spit.
      There are no useful Usenet archival searches left anywhere on the web,
      just for-pay warez crap.