Disappearing facts

Rarely has there ever been a time in the history of humanity where there was so much change in the things we surround ourselves with. One of the places where that keeps impressing me is my office. If someone born in the 19th century had been able to show his office to a person born a hundred years earlier, that person would readily have recognized every item in that office. Inkpot, quill, paper. Today, change is so fast that in a single lifetime you can watch once-standard items disappear. Take the mechanical typewriters. In most offices, they have long been removed. Or those self-copying sets of paper sheets for when you needed two or more copies of the same text, or even the carbon paper used before those were invented. If you still remember using a landline telephone with a rotating dial, that was probably some fifteen or twenty years ago. Today, you would have to look hard to find any of the aforementioned items in an office. Instead, we have the newest digital technology to replace them. Our daily work, of course, is facilitated by that. But what about our collective long-term memory? You can still read protocols of trials held in the fifteenth century, or land sales from the time of Charlemagne, without any more inconvenience than having to learn how to decipher the style of script they have been written in. Today, at lot of those things never even get printed out on paper. Instead, they are saved on computer servers. At the speed with which technology is updated, there are even today sets of data which may be properly stored, but nobody can read them because the program needed to open them is not used any more. I won't even mention the ways that stored data may be corrupted by damage to the storage medium, or the possibility of data loss before backup. Maybe there were never more words written down than in our lifetime, but future generations may end up with less of our words left for them to read than they have from our Renaissance ancestors. They might also end up with less pictures. To keep that from happening, all the data we want to be there for our descendants would have to be regularly saved and adapted to the most recent hard- and software standards. But who takes the time for that? I still have my old cassette tapes and LPs, but do not have a cassette deck or a record player. I never got around to digitalizing them. Nor did I bother to transform several years' worth of calendars when my old Lotus Organizer (tm)turned out to be incompatible with the newest edition of Windows (tm). I haven't missed that data, but it and so much more will not be there for future historians who want to find out about what it was like to live in our times. Our collective memory, thus, is getting more short-lived every year. Which is sad, because, as someone wiser than me once remarked, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Julia

No comments:

Post a Comment