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 Are we heading for a new Dark Age?

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Are we heading for a new Dark Age?   Mon 18 May 2015, 11:16

Yesterday I tried to recover some old Word documents that I’d saved onto disc … but I couldn’t get them to read. I’m not sure if the disc had degraded or been damaged in some way, or that the problem is that it had been saved on an old computer using an older version of Windows. It was annoying rather than catastrophic as I eventually found a paper copy and was able to re-scan that. But that back-up disc was only from about 10 years ago, and that makes me wonder how many other documents - everything from personal letters and photos to central government archives - are already effectively lost either due to the continual upgrading of the recording software, or the lack of long-term durability of the actual recording medium.

In stark contrast to these weaknesses in data storage is the tried and tested method of printing/writing things in ink onto paper. Anyone that has done any genealogical research will have had to use the indexes to Births/Marriage/Death certificates. Until just a few years ago when they went online, these indexes were huge bound books which everyone had to consult to find the index number for the record they were after. The oldest indexes in use, dating back to before 1840 were still the originals, hand-written in ink on parchment, but despite over 150 years of grubby, greasy fingers running down the lists, they were still perfectly legible. Similarly I have family photographs dating from the 1880s that have survived about a dozen house moves, wartime bombing and at least one house fire, and yet are still in good condition, especially when compared to recently scanned jpg files on unreadable discs.

So ironically at a time of selfies, online records, the capacity to store huge amounts of data digitally … when very few people actually put pen to paper to write a letter, and cameras no longer record negatives onto plastic film … are we actually running the risk of losing huge swathes of vital records? Are we in danger of leaving such a paltry documentary record of these times that future historians will look back at our time as a second dark age?


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 18 May 2015, 17:18; edited 1 time in total
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Are we heading for a new Dark Age?   Mon 18 May 2015, 13:55

Interesting, isn't it, that at a time when material is being generated in unprecedented quantities its survival is quite so dependant on the maintenance of technology? Not only quantity but in theoretical immortality: even our incontinent burbling here has the potential to be available in perpetuity!

If the machinery for accessing digital records is maintained though, future historians will have a vast amount of bumf to wade through before they get to anything important - social historians in particular with the endless streams of waffle on social media will surely end up utterly bemused or possibly suicidal.
I wonder as well, does the combination of accessibility and the lack of ways to remove or edit much of what is inscribed in digital form restrain some of the candour and honesty that might be put in a letter, memo or document as opposed to an email or a blog? Given that people are becoming aware of the possibility that rash statements - or even strong opinions - can be raked up years  later, inhibit them? And Freedom of Information, whistleblowers, hackers and leakers, how much do these actually foster a culture of secrecy or at least extreme discretion? Yes, a top secret document can be appropriated and circulated but digital information is so much easier to acquire in quantity and then distribute instantly and universally?

It's good old unforeseen consequences yet again.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Are we heading for a new Dark Age?   Tue 19 May 2015, 09:18

I am reminded of the NASA project in the 1960s to design a pen that could function in zero gravity. After millions of dollars in development the eggheads came up with a rather marvelous contraption in which the pressure exerted on the ball in the ballpoint nib also generated a slight current that in turn activated a tiny custom-built pump situated at the extremity of the ink-stalk within. Its inventor received a prize for technical innovation in 1968 normally reserved for people who come up with hadron colliders and the like.

The Russians meanwhile equipped their cosmonauts with pencils.
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