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Archive for July, 2011

Life After Digital: Someday The Internet Will Disappear

It occurred to me today that my generation will leave little behind of the culture we created.

We won’t build anything like a Grand Central Station, cathedral, monument, or pyramid. Everything we build is temporary and will shortly disappear.

Our culture will be gone too. Written documents will go out of style with printed books to make way for cheaper and more efficient digital files. The day we make the full transition to the digital world will be the day that the cultural trail goes cold.

In the irony of being the most documented, over sharing generation ever to live, that digital information will be lost. Services will shut down, technology will change, and the electricity may one day go out. A hiccup in our civilization caused by war or worse will cause the network to crash. It wasn't arch

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itected for the relentless erosion of time. It's built on a flimsy patchwork of services that barely work when given the constant attention of engineers.

If the system goes down, even for a brief time, all that data will be gone. It will be locked on magnetic disks and memory chips in ones and zeros, and we will lack the precise technology to decipher them. Our focus will be on getting the system and our civilization back up and running. The task of figuring out how to retrieve all of that data will be insurmountable. It will be stored on machines that no longer work, in software that no longer runs, written in languages that are no longer used.

It's already happening. The data and high quality footage from our first moon landing, a seminal event for our civilization, is locked on giant reels of magnetic film. There are no machines left to read their contents; it might as well not exist.

The digital representation of our culture will become dead bits, and instead of reviving them we'll start over. My blog seems like the perfect place to lament this eventuality. In a short time it will disappear, along with everything else posted here.

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