Monday, February 16, 2015

Heading Into A Digital Dark Age

One of the million or so pieces of cuneiform writing awaiting someone to decipher it.

Google V.P. Vint Cerf - often tagged as one of the Internet's founders - warned of a coming lost century since digitized information fades fast as technology and software change.

"Ancient civilizations suffered no such problems, because histories written in cuneiform on baked clay tablets, or rolled papyrus scrolls, needed only eyes to read them. To study today’s culture, future scholars would be faced with PDFs, Word documents, and hundreds of other file types that can only be interpreted with dedicated software and sometimes hardware too.

"The problem is already here. In the 1980s, it was routine to save documents on floppy disks, upload Jet Set Willy from cassette to the ZX spectrum, slaughter aliens with a Quickfire II joystick, and have Atari games cartridges in the attic. Even if the disks and cassettes are in good condition, the equipment needed to run them is mostly found only in museums.

"The rise of gaming has its own place in the story of digital culture, but Cerf warns that important political and historical documents will also be lost to bit rot. In 2005, American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, describing how Lincoln hired those who ran against him for presidency. She went to libraries around the US, found the physical letters of the people involved, and reconstructed their conversations. “In today’s world those letters would be emails and the chances of finding them will be vanishingly small 100 years from now,” said Cerf."

Full article is here.

Meanwhile, some folks are thinking and working on the structure of a 10,000 year memory structure. Meet the Long Now Foundation.

History no longer belongs to those who write of it - it belongs to those who know how to archive and access it across thousands of years.