I’m reading Roy Rosensweig’s article about preservation of the internet for future historians, and two things come to mind:
1) Why are we bothering?
2) Will we still be able to read the text?
I noticed that while he’s going into excellent detail about the search for the how of preserving the internet for future historians, he hardly ever goes into the why. Is it because he assumes that anybody who would read his article would naturally agree that the internet is a thing worth preserving?
There are things on the internet worth preserving, I agree. Emails have replaced letters and memos. We don’t want to lose those. Specific historical projects, notable blogs, (the entirety of twitter), but, well, let me show you a screenshot from one of my favorite comics, Dr. McNinja.
In case you don’t want to look*, the human resistance managed to print out the internet — the entire internet — before dinosaurs shut down the internet for good. Dr. McNinja has to research and find something that will help the humans in the upcoming battle against the Brontosauran president. He finds himself surrounded by forum comments, in book form, by one guy, on the topic of Transformers. Which takes up at least that wall.
While this works as a good metaphor for the difficulty of preserving the internet, it also leads one to ask — who cares what Sephiroth92 has to say about Transformers? I admit that my personal livejournal isn’t of interest to anyone except me, the future writer of my autobiography (after I finish my genealogy research). Will the historians of the future really care if one day I found my lizard cute because he stuck his tail up while he was eating, and the next day I swooned because he fell asleep on my lap? How many pictures of clouds does the future really need?
As for my second question, I ask that because the language of the future is of particular interest to me. English is still evolving, even though we’ve managed to standardize it. I admit I found Pride and Prejudice difficult to read the
first three first time I ever read it, and that book was only written two hundred years ago. What came across as light and fluffy reading in 1813 comes across as stiff, overly formal, and ridiculously verbose (and only sometimes she does it on purpose for a joke!). People need training to read Shakespeare. We actually have to translate early English. Language evolves, right?
In 300 years the America we know today will be gone. What will be their cultural values? What will they read “ur so gay lol” as?
There’s a project. It’s about the signs we should post around the nuclear waste facilities way off in the west. Nuclear waste has a huge half-life. Since we don’t know who will be living in America in 300 years, we need to find a way to warn them about this deadly chemical that will remain deadly for thousands of years.
Would they see a biohazard…or an angel? If they see a sign that depicted someone touching the chemicals, then falling sick and dying, would they think “that’s superstitious nonsense”? Would they see these data servers, carrying our archives of the internet, and think them of any value? If all the electricity is gone, what good is keeping the internet around, anyway?
*I recommend you do — or check out the original comics, they’re pg. 40-41 of “Futures Trading”. I’d start from the first comic though.
EDIT: Here is where I first found out about the project: This Place Is Not A Place of Honor. A VERY interesting read.