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Lost in CyberSpace

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I've just been reading an old Guardian interview with William Gibson [Necromancer].

He was talking about "cyberspace" and the profound changes that have happened because of it. He said: 'I think that one of the things that sets us most thoroughly apart [from other animals] is the ability to preserve our individual memory. The information of the cave paintings becomes Borges's library, Borges's library becomes a laptop computer.'

And then the Guardian columnist wrote "The internet is the shared memory of the species." Likewise Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1970 that "the accumulated knowledge of the world [would be available] to your fingertips" via a personal computer type device.

Now the "internet" for pretty much everyone means the World Wide Web [as invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee] which has been freely available to all of us for just 20 years [the anniversary date is actually 30 April 1993 - that's when CERN "gave it away"]. But what the Guardian guy and Arthur C. Clarke wrote may - sadly - not be true. Think about it. Web pages get updated, replaced and taken down. Stuff you could Google last year may now have gone. Forever. Web pages from the early days of the WWW - less than 20 years ago - have now disappeared forever, along with all the stuff that was on them. Corporations may have archived these but if they've gone belly up those will have ended up in the skip. Same with personal blogs. And Facebook - all those personal diary entries and photos of family and friends recording your life online, when you die they'll disappear too. Forever [Facebook is currently working on options in this area but it's fraught with legal difficulties].

Go back just 20 years and it was all so different:
- people kept personal diaries [yeah, hard to believe, they wrote things down on paper pages bound together in something called a "book" thing]
- families kept hard copies of family photos stuck in more "book" things called albums, maybe with dates and captions written alongside [and these things last for centuries if kept in a cool shaded place - I've got some going back to the 1880s]

- people wrote letters to each other [yeah, on that weird paper stuff again] and often kept them in correspondence files for future generations to read.

I've also got a 15 year old laptop with personal stuff on it I can no longer access because it's now hopelessly out of date [it can only access the internet via dialup and can't handle webmail, it's got an obsolete floppy drive - look it up :P  - and the connectors are all obsolete too]. Other threads have talked about CDs, CD-ROMs etc degrading after a decade or two [so all those archived "backups" will just become novelty drinks mats] and who can guarantee USB drives will still work in 50 years - if you can find them!

Same with eBooks - when publishers delete titles they'll be gone. No more hard copies stocked by second hand book shops, stored in lending libraries, or archived at the British Library.

Maybe that's why the UK government still records every statute on parchment or vellum, stored in the tower at the Houses of Parliament. Why? Because it lasts for centuries - probably millennia - with minimal work [you just need secure dry storage]. And proof of that is the archive of legislation going back more than 500 years [older records like Magna Carta are kept elsewhere].

As the Parliament website says, this is the "memory of Parliament", not the WWW.

Edited by Zombie
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