Thursday, November 24, 2011

Will Our Graffiti Last To Tell Our Stories?

Amazing, these haunting pictures of Hashima Island, Japan. Timber littered
streets and crumbling concrete worse than a Montreal overpass. Abandoned in
the '70s, it is in far worse shape than many ancient stone monuments. We sure
don't build to last, these days. How much of what we create will become
unidentifiable dust before the works of the ancients lose just a hair's width?

Just like buildings, our ideas may disappear, too. From writing with stone and
ceramic tablets, sometimes on plates of lasting metal, then papyrus and
vellum, through cloth and wood fibre paper, our methods of recording our
knowledge have become incredibly less durable over time.

Now we are in the digital age. Our writing appears on screens and it's stored,
mostly, on chips which count on the presence of tiny electrons and tape or
disks with microscopically thin layers of magnetic material. Only slightly
more durable are the invisibly small holes burned into CDs and DVDs.  A solar
storm can pop electrons from our precious flash drives.  A bad concentric
scratch can render huge portions of a CD or DVD unreadable.  The magnetism
used by hard disk drives and backup tapes may vanish simply because of the
passage of time.

These wonderful social media sites, such as the one I'm writing this on, are
the graffiti of our times.  They can enable ordinary people to topple tyranny.
They can give a new parent advice.  They can bring geographically distant
people, who share interests, together.  We are in the midst of one of the
biggest changes in human history.  This is the beginning of a new paradigm.
Everyone on this little blue planet may soon matter equally.

Everyone has always wanted to matter.  Read the letters in lead written by
soldiers at Hadrian's Wall or the graffiti left by ordinary people on the
walls at Pompeii.

Our graffiti, however, may not last.  All these wonderful changes we are
experiencing are historic.  Our ideas, whether personal or otherwise, are
coming faster and more ferociously then at any other point in history.
Unfortunately, there is a real possibility of, as named by others, a
technological dark age.  We may disappear simply because we store our ideas
using methods that are designed to have an expected lifetime of x hours.  Yes,
HOURS!  If you doubt me, read the specifications of a hard drive for its MTBF
(mean time before failure).

We design for the present thus we risk disappearing only shortly thereafter.
For that reason, I think I'll print this.  See you in history.  Oh, and to my
descendants, "Stephen Harper is a moron."  With any luck, he'll have a
paperless office.

P.S.  My first attempt in writing this was partly disappeared by the social
media site I used, when I clicked the submit button.  I guess I was a little
too wordy for the comment form.  Ideas can disappear very quickly, indeed.

P.P.S.  The draft I printed is going to go in the black garbage bag.  Sorry
recyclers!  My thoughts have a far better chance in a land fill; most of them
are really only mental trash, anyhow.  I'm going to enclose it in a couple of
sealed plastic bags, too. Plastic seems to be one of the few modern marvels
having a chance to last.  Don't tell the Prime Minister.  I like my version of
history far better!

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