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    The Lost Library of Alexandria
    Project: The Total Library
    The Library of Alexandria was an enormous repository of ancient wisdom situated in Egypt. Due to one reason or another, however, it became destroyed. The exact reason is disputed but it can certainly be chalked up to something broadly specific I'll write about and pop a link on right after I write about it.

    This is a pretty good indication in history of the importance of everyone having to think for themselves and never submit to fully trusting the flow of the masses as a proper mode of action through life. The library is also really quite a good comparasion to the ethereal nature of the internet: It's totally dependent on the constant functioning of machines. Everything could be completely wiped out with a certain amount of electromagnetic pulse emissions, unless it was all contained in faraday cages or whatever, and even then it's still a fairly vulnerable system. All the important information contained is completely fragile. Nothing is permanent, and that alone should teach you to be careful with everything if you want to keep it around.

    From Carl Sagan's PBS television series Cosmos:

    Also read:

    ( edit / delete )  Wed, Feb 13, 2008  Permanent link

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    sjef     Fri, Feb 15, 2008  Permanent link
    Makes you wonder again at how often this has already happened throughout history, how much has been lost and how often we have rediscovered the same things.

    It would be interesting to see if the current distribution of printed knowledge would be enough to save us from (or much it would shorten) a new dark age if our digital data stores were taken out...
         Mon, Feb 25, 2008  Permanent link
    And also, there's the matter of the fact that paper only lasts so long, and is nice and burnable. What if a potential future dark age lasts a good 1000 years, in which time most of our printed material will be nice and rotted? Who knows what kind of future and unfamiliar climactic conditions can do to speed that all up?

    I always thought it'd be cool to just make a hobby out of carving important information into stone and burying it for someone's hidden treasure of the future, just in case. Thing is that it'd be a bit hard to choose what exactly to fit in there.
    Rourke     Sun, Mar 23, 2008  Permanent link
    The internet should make some of these worries antiquated. Its 'self' organising format allows data to exist with no central location. One server goes down and another hub in the system steps up to fill the gap - kind of like the way a brain self organises, a system we would do well to copy in kind. There must be ways to force these systems to output their stored potential in a form which would last beyond their current (fragile) magnetic components.

    The recent opening of the '100 million year seed store' in the arctic is the kind of technological firewall we should aim towards with all our important accumulations. Perhaps the form this would take (for data) is something The Total Library Project could play around with...
         Sun, Mar 23, 2008  Permanent link
    Well, the infrastructure could exist through radio waves set up in a sort of mesh network. The infrastructure is bloody invincible, besides the prospect of heavy emissions of electromagnetic pulses. The only somewhat likely cause of that happening so far would be nuclear war, though, so I'm not all that worried about that because everything would be completely fucked anyways.

    Maybe if we set up something to transmit the internet to a remote relay station on another celestial body? Of course, nowhere really has much protection from gamma rays and all that fun out there...

    Really, though, the biggest threat is if any of the powers that be decide on trying to shape the internet to their crappy ideals of controlling everything. "Net neutrality" and all that.

    I thought I read somewhere that there has been backups made of the internet but it's of course on nonlasting magnetic storage. Lasting digital storage is something that would be a challenge but it's probably one that someone needs to take up for sure.
    DDAVIS     Mon, Mar 24, 2008  Permanent link
    The main survival factor in information seems to be its continuious use and copying to new formats. Neglect of written archives led to loss through physical decay, with fires, floods etc adding to the toll. Deliberate efforts to destroy knowledge of course were inflicted upon the libraries, with Christian and Moslem fanatics taking turns at burning books over the centuries. A few episodes of deliberate gathering and archiving of literature in pre printing times provided us with much of what we have, other material of practical use was translated for Islamic cultures whose ascendency coorisponded with the decay of Western literacy.
    Format changes were a major factor in the loss of ancient literature, as text evolved word spacing and such. The physical medium of reading changed in early Christian times from the scroll to the 'codex' paged book. Both reformattings required recopying of texts for new readers, a labor intensive process which was allocated to what were considered important texts for educational and clerical use. Already we see a similar process in play, as many documents made in earlier digital formats survive today only in printed copies. Digital format changes form a gauntlet beyond which many documents will never pass.
    I have the impression that perhaps one out of a thousand books written in Western Classical times has survived, with perhaps 10-20 percent of the KNOWN 'must have' books now available in whole or in part from continuiously copied manuscripts. There are collections of authors names in a few manuscripts, almost all of which are known only from such lists.

    What will be the fate of literature if civilization loses it's vitality for a few decades or centuries?
    The books of today are generally made of flimsy materials which are vulnerable to decay over the centuries in all but the driest climates. This is compensated for by the mass production of thousands of copies of such books. The 'acid free' papers will last longer. The long term stability of colored inks in illustrations may be a factor, but kept in a dark dry place the better quality illustrated books should be fine for centuries. Newsprint and other cheap papers will crumble into piles of flakes unless a lot of effort is taken such as laminating or photographing them. One can imagine the tiny fraction of such material that can honestly justify such effort, and we thus see the eternal process of decay of information in progress.
    Microfilm has attempted to address this and if the film is processed and stored according to specs post Nitrate B&W film is very stable, although microfilm is of poor resolution, only intended to preserve readable text, and such films often show effects of poor treatment and storage.
    The survival of information in the event of a lapse of civilization would be greatly biased toward pre digital literature in regions of dry climates away from major cities. The technological base needed to preserve internet hubs could decline due to war, pandemic, and social change to the point of the effective loss of the Internet. Only text that has been printed out would have any chance for survival unless some fraction of readable digital media is preserved in an unplundered vault and read from stored and restored or reverse engineered devices.
    There have been suggestions of backing up data in vaults on the Moon. This sounds a little like placing a first aid kit on the top of Mt. Everest-when you need it you may well have lost the ability to reach it.

         Tue, Mar 25, 2008  Permanent link
    You made me realize something with your comprehensive comment there, ddavid. Information isn't static, and really nothing is truly static in a physical sense. Information just happens to flow constantly between containers from people's minds to paper to hard disks.

    Maybe the solution to the potential problem is to just ensure that it keeps on flowing in new and wonderful ways.