Have you ever feared the possibility of humanity losing its history? And no, I’m not talking about a failure to learn from some of history’s past lessons. I’m talking about losing history as a whole. Gone forever. Nada.
Have you ever feared the possibility of humanity losing its history?
And no, I’m not talking about a failure to learn from some of history’s past lessons. I’m talking about losing history as a whole. Gone forever. Nada.
I’ll give you an example. During my college days I hammered out multiple short stories and novelettes covering many varied topics. At the time I was under the amusing delusion that I would someday become the next Stephen King. I pounded out my fiction on a clunky Brother word processor that was as heavy as a Pinto and included a flip-down orange monitor and built-in printer.
While rooting around in my attic recently I came across a box that held two-dozen multi-colored computer discs. Stored inside were my 200 or so stories. Unfortunately, my Brother word processor that could read those discs and print out said stories had long severed its mortal coil. And thanks to the dizzying advances in computer technology, nothing today could read such an antiquated format.
So without any visible locks or keys, my fiction is now locked away for oblivion inside a prison of outdated technology.
Now imagine that happening on a much larger scale. As it is, millions of us utilize the Internet and electronic mail and fax machines to do our business today, replacing inked letters and logbooks of yesteryear.
The Internet was created in the late 1960s to allow the Pentagon to speak to its troops in case of a Soviet nuclear strike taking out their communication centers. Essentially, it was an electronic communication system where none had existed before, and it was to back-up the pen-and-ink communication system in place at the time.
History loves pen-and-ink communication systems because of the obvious paper trail it creates. There is physical proof of a person’s actions, words and deeds. Historians can piece together history of a long-gone empire by reading diaries and notes, along with the official papers and proclamations and documentations.
But now, with hand-in-pen systems slowly disappearing and replaced with electronic communication systems that can send information at nearly the speed of light, how can one document electronic signals?
Sure, one can simply print the data out, converting the electronic gobbledygook into English words, but like the sad case of my clunky Brother word processor from the early 1990s, what if the electronic data exists, but the means in which to read it doesn’t? Contrary to what you may believe, data stored electronically is much less secure than that diary hidden in the bottom sock drawer, mainly due to the constantly changing technology and formats.
Here’s another hypothetical example. Let’s say a scientist in 1995 discovers the means to process unlimited fusion energy. He stores all of his data on 200 or so CD-ROM discs. He is then tragically killed in a car accident, and his files remained locked inside a sealed vault. Now jump forward to 2118, and there are rumors that an American more than a century ago allegedly discovered the secret to cheap energy. The world in 2118 is starved for such a thing, with vast amounts of money poured into alternative energy sources. Government officials discover who the man is, where he lived and what happened to him. More importantly, they discover his vault and manage to unseal it. Among various personal items inside are the 200 shiny and round CD-ROMs. Unfortunately, none of them have ever seen them before. Worse, despite the fortune they contain, there is no suitable disk drive to play it. How will they run the ancient software? How will they obtain the information inside?
It’s a good question. Its answer has to something we figure out and plan for.
The Dark Ages are considered “dark” not because the people living then were imbeciles, but due to the lack of history recorded in a means in which it could be discovered and documented at a later date.
It sure would be terrible for the 21st century to be labeled something similar by future generations.
Kevin McClintock is a staff writer for The Carthage Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.