Friday, March 19, 2010

The persistence of memory?

We don't know a whole hell of a lot about ancient Sumeria. Hell, until fairly recently, we couldn't even read their language. Furthermore, we don't have a whole LOT of their language to READ, considering the frangible nature of mud and clay tablets, which were their primary form of publishing.

We don't know a whole hell of a lot, comparitively speaking, about ancient Greece. Homer told a whole bunch of stories, but we only know a couple that survived the burning of the Library at Alexandria. We certainly don't know what the average Greek on the street thought about much of anything... particularly because the average Greek on the street was probably a slave, and who cared what slaves thought about anything?

Truth is, we don't know a hell of a lot about the Americans of a hundred years ago. A lot of them couldn't write. A lot of what they DID write has simply fallen by the wayside, disintegrated, been forgotten.

The same could be said of the Americans of fifty years ago. True, most of them knew how to write, but few were published, and of the published work of fifty years ago, how much of it is still around? Accessible?

Until now.

Computer memory is cheap, and getting cheaper. The term "server farm" is becoming more and more widespread, as more and more outfits find reasons to keep a bunch of computer memory storage handy. The computer I'm working on now came with a free trial that allows me to keep my valuable data in a storage vault online out there somewhere, for safekeeping.

How safe is it, I wonder? For that matter, where's the server that this blog is being stored on? Is it safe? How safe? And for how long? At what point will the machine's owner decide to clear its memory, erasing my thoughts forever?

We've only had the Internet as we know it for a couple decades. There are many, many, MANY sites out there that are ghostly, abandoned. I hear stories about "ghost accounts" on email, webgroups, blogs, and websites that are there because their owners and creators have died, and no one can access them now; the passwords are lost. They sit there, unchanging, unupdated, a picture of the day their creators last accessed them...

If memory and servers keep getting cheaper... and civilization doesn't collapse... future historians are going to have a LOT of crap to sift through. Wanna know what the average guy from Kokomo thought about the price of beans in Haiti circa 1998? It is now possible to find out. As more and more of us Twitter, blog, and text our every thought and feeling and stimulus-response, the data patterns grow. And as far as I can tell, no one is erasing the vast majority of them. Hell, I can't tell you for sure that Hotmail erases all my emails just because I hit the DELETE key. Where do they go? Are they still around?

In a hundred years, will someone rediscover Doctor Bedlam, and read what he had to say?

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