Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Our Ephemeral Society: Maybe We Need to Sacrifice a Few More Trees, or Thoughts on Going Digital

Last night as I was watching the local borough council work its way through an agenda full of bike paths, financial statements and criticism I was struck once again by how ephemeral our current way of doing things is. It was the first night that the council and top borough officials had laptops before them with all the documents they might need to consult available there and not in stacks of printed pages. The council seemed pleased at their initiative—far fewer trees destroyed, the mairesse said—but what will happen when the electronic media deteriorate or when the computers crash or there is a huge sunspot caused power surge that fries everything plugged into the grid?

I presume that someone in the borough administration is printing out a few copies—the mairesse read the financial statement not from her computer screen, Kindle style, but from a stapled-together printout. But who is archiving all those electronic communications, those lovely web pages, those Google maps that we can call up so easily? CD, DVD and iPod forms of music and film seem not to be an more stable than early celluloid film, too. Re-recording our culture every 10 years appears to be developing into a major growth industry, as we switch blithely from one storage form to another. And few people seemed concerned about the possibility that all this will be lost if for one reason or another our electronic gadgets are unusable.

Like the monks in Ireland who saved Western civilization by copying manuscripts in the Dark Ages, it may be that cranks who print things out may save our accumulated knowledge for those who are around a few hundred years down the line.

I’m thinking of printing out my blog, just to have it around. You never know when ephemera like my rants might be of interest to someone in the future, just the way that letters and diaries from the past are the stuff that fuels research today. But that is only one small take on the world. What will happen to us if we only have on-line newspapers? Is anyone printing out what the Christian Science Monitor of puts on line? What about on-line publications like Rue Frontenac in Montreal, produced by locked-out employees of the Journal de Montréal?

And what will we use to wrap fish?

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

Can't answer most of your questions, but you might consider organizing your blog into files that an on-demand printer can print as a nice trade paperback -- book of days style. For a modest amount of time and money you have an easily stored paper copy. You could even offer copies for sale! But you don't have to.