How We’ll Be Remembered

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I just finished reading a fantastic biography of John Adams, largely composed by correspondence and other papers that John Adams wrote during his lifetime. The vast amount of paper records that survived him have given rise to one of my most pressing questions – how those of us in the digital age will be remembered.

The art of letter-writing has seemingly gone out of style. Instead, we write e-mails, composing our missives in digital form. We store them on electronic devices. But the leading researchers say that digital media will only last about fifty years at the most. Every single hard drive in existence today will fail. It’s not a question of if, it’s a matter of when. As inherently mechanical devices they’re destined to fail.

It’s not as though the pen and paper are somehow a more long-term storage device. Indeed, papers can be destroyed by fire, flood, or carelessness. But we do not yet know the impact of an increasingly digital world on the history writers of 2208. We have no way of determining what, if any, information they will be able to recover about us.

The truth is that our very file structures will not exist in two hundred years, or our method of encrypting and decrypting data. While I would like to presume those of the future to be smarter and more sophisticated than we are today, I have no way of knowing that this will be the case.

As a technologist, I am a fan of digital collections. My music is stored that way, and so are a good number of my most precious memories as photographs and writings. I have no intention to print them onto paper for posterity. And the judge of history will have to make do with the digital records of my life, plain and simple.

I just hope there’s enough information left to make a good accounting.

Brandon Savage is the author of Mastering Object Oriented PHP and Practical Design Patterns in PHP

Posted on 8/13/2008 at 9:10 am
Categories: Uncategorized

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