Another reason why we won’t exist in future history

I’ve went on Luddite rants before, but a NextGov article titled Most Scientific Research Data from the 1990s is Lost Forever settles in my mind the impending technoclasm will erase us from history.

As a  Maître Jaques, I amateurishly dabble in many fields, but have not the skill to bountifully harvest from any of them. But even a simpleton such as I can see that we will be an enigma to future generations, who might see the ruins of our great civilization, but have no surviving record of what we were capable of. Unlike the Egyptians, we don’t leave much of our record in stone. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, we don’t even leave it in paper anymore. We’re more like the Atlanteans (they did exist didn’t they???). What other ancient civilizations existed that we have no record of because they chose to store their records to “advanced”, and fragile, means of storage. ?

The article mentioned that much of the lost data were stored on floppy disks. This reminded me of another article about the migration of the original source code of Prince of Persia a while back. Had the source code not been found when antique hardware was available to read the ancient formats, that effort would have been lost as well. This is the dilemma of digital storage: every so often, that which is saved in an old format must be moved to a newer format. Obsolete tech, bit rot, and what-have-you.
I have firsthand experience with the hassle this is. After my father died, I inherited all the old VHS family movies. For a couple years now, I’ve kept a VCR around, connected to a DVD burner, so that I can convert the movies to DVD, which I will then rip to some digital format, saved to my hard drive. So what do I do then? I have to back them up to something else in case of hard drive failure. What do I do a decade from now when I have to migrate to some newer platform? When does the value of the “memories” diminish to where it is not worth the effort? Do my kids or their kids really care to see what my siblings and I did growing up? I don’t know, but as the family archivist, I’ll go through the effort, because I don’t want to be the one to let the family stories and legends die.
We tried to address this in the 70s with the gold disks sent out on Voyagers 1 & 2. I don’t think we’ve done many such practical things since. I’ve seen a theory posited online that the apex of human civilization was 1975. I’ll not link to them, because they’re just as crackpotish as I am (or more¡), but when you look at how little “new” we’ve created since then, the theory sounds reasonable. We haven’t been to the moon since then. Intel invented the 4004 microprocessor in 1971. We still use a small arms platform designed by Eugene Stoner in 1958. Even the Space Shuttle was a 1960s design that would have launched years earlier had it not been for government bureaucracy. Everything we have done since has been advances on these innovations. Sure we have smaller, faster, lighter tech that wasn’t available then, but its all built off of the thinking from that era. Even Unix was invented in the late 60s and was in pretty good use by the early 70s. We’ve even reached the limits of Moore’s Law.
So what is the solution? If we want to be remembered as a civilization, we need to develop some type of high-density, analog format etched into a robust media, like the disks on Voyager. This Wikipedia entry has other peoples’ ideas. Or we drop back to one of my other favorite topics, Tribalism, and each small group ensures the survival of its own legacy through whatever means it chooses.

Sharing from xkcd: The Pace of Modern Life

What would the authors quoted below think of the means of communication today?

http://xkcd.com/1227

As much as I claim to be a luddite and technoclast in many regards, this particular comic calls my bluff with regards to communication. While I do occasionally write and send letters for the anachronism of the action, I more often scribe a quick email with all its informality. There are multiple reasons for this, but it boils down to the speed at which a response can be obtained. While email is not realtime, it is very nearly realtime in some instances.

It is amusing that the dire predictions from over one hundred forty years ago have not came completely to pass, but many aspects are true.

Kodak Failing, But Camera Phones Not To Blame

Referencing the Slashdot story below regarding Kodak’s impending demise, I think there is a greater tragedy at play here. If I want to see photos of relatives, many of whom are no longer living, all I have to do is dig out photo albums and shoeboxes full of photos. I can get a glimpse of their lives with relative ease. I don’t have to have a piece of equipment to view them, they are readily available on a more-or-less permanent media. Fast forward to, say, fifty years from now. Will anyone be able to view any of the hundreds or thousands of photos that my family will take digitally and store electronically? I fear not. Unless someone actively moves the files to whatever the current storage formats and media are at any given time, then the effort to take the photos was in vain (when viewed from a long-term perspective).

Kodak Failing, But Camera Phones Not To Blame: An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from The Conversation: “According to the Wall Street Journal, camera manufacturer Kodak is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following a long struggle to maintain any sort of viable business. The announcement has prompted some commentators to claim that Kodak’s near-demise has been brought on by: a failure to innovate, or a failure to anticipate the shift from analogue to digital cameras, or a failure to compete with the rise of cameras in mobile phones. Actually, none of these claims are true. Where Kodak did fail is in not understanding what people take photographs for, and what they do with photos once they have taken them.”

Continues the reader: “Looking at camera data from Flickr, of images uploaded in 2011, camera phones only make up 3% of the total. Dedicated cameras from Canon, Nikon and yes, Kodak were used to take 97% of the images. What Kodak failed to understand is that people have switched from taking photos for remembering and commemorative reasons to using photos for identity and communication. The shift changes the emphasis away from print to social media platforms and dedicated apps.”



Read more of this story at Slashdot.

I think of people who invested in 8 tracks in the 70’s. How do they listen to that music now? They re-buy it as MP3s or whatnot. We cannot repurchase lost memories. And unfortunately, we might not be able to take analog photos and have them printed for many more years. Taking photos on film already is, from my layman’s perspective, been relegated to niche status. Once the means to easily develop film goes away, then the ability to retain those memories for generations will be as elusive as a family photograph in the 1860s (Hyperbole? I don’t mean it to be.). The difference being that back then, there was limited means of taking a photograph at all. Now there is ample means of taking a photograph, but limited medium on which to permanently record it.

So it’s sad to see what is happening to Kodak when viewed in a different light than just seeing a business who can’t change it’s model to stay competitive. We’ve overlooked the thing that so many generations now have enjoyed about photos: longevity.