The Deep Future
Not to continue on the morbid streak, but Pamela Jeanne sent me an article from NPR that I’ve been thinking a lot about, too. It’s on historical preservation; not just the stuff that we know is important in the moment, that we immediately put behind a glass case. But the things that we think we are doing a good job preserving for future generations to see that will be inaccessible or gone altogether.
It’s not just preserving photographs in a medium that will still be used in the future. I mean, that is something anyone who has gone from records to audio cassettes to compact discs to streaming music can wrap their brain around.
It the sheer deluge of words; how do we separate out the important ones from the toss-away? How do we curate and preserve the important tweets? The Facebook status updates that created change or are indicative of how we live our lives right now? Self-publishing has brought about a tidal wave of books: a good thing for the present moment and a logistical nightmare for preservation.
Especially when we look deep into the future. Despite people building careers on preservation will we inevitably have our moment in time boiled down to a handful of artifacts? Are humans not meant to hold onto everything, despite being hardwired to hoard?
In the NPR article, Vint Cerf takes the example of research conducted on old letters and photographs; things we can still pick up and use even though technology has changed. Whereas consider the hours of audio cassette interviews I’m storing in the basement. (Why? I have no idea.) They’re hard to access now. I need to borrow equipment in order to listen to them. Will they be completely inaccessible forty years from now? Just a piece of useless tape encased in plastic?
I’ve been thinking about how I need to print out photos. I have my pictures backed up in multiple places, but all of those places are useless if the technology moves on and I can no longer look at them.
It’s not just that the world may be a very different place 100 years from now and the people no longer understand why social media meant so much to us or the jokes on Saturday Night Live. It may be that there are people who want to understand, who want to do research on our lives, and yet have no way to get to the information or even sort through the data to know what is important to consider. When every tweet is kept, how do future generations know which are the important ones within the sea of trillions?
I’m thinking about building a personal time capsule book for the twins, something that they can pass down through the family. Nothing huge; perhaps only a photo or two from each year. Commentary on current events. Written recordings of big family moments.
I wish I had something like that from the prior generations. Did they have the intention to do something like that, too? Did life get in the way, or did it not occur to them that future generations would want this information? I can’t believe that preservation is a modern thought, which begs the question: why didn’t recent past generations protect and curate for us? Is there something we don’t know?