“Technology is so much fun but we can drown in our technology. The fog of information can drive out knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin, Librarian of Congress (1973-85) on the computerization of libraries, 1983.
One of the things I learned in my first year in library school was that information disappears over time for a number of reasons, but that three are foremost: war, when the other side wins; commerce, when there is not enough of a perceived market for the cost; and technology when the newer methodology renders a previous iteration obsolete.
I remember seeing pictures of these massive computers back in the 1960s, storing all sorts of seemingly important information. Unless ALL of it got transferred to a later technology, and then the one after that, one must assume that some of that data is lost and irretrievable. How many of you had files on 5 1/4″ floppy discs, or even 3 1/2″ discs, but your current computer has no place for them?
Take music. Some of the symphonies originally recorded on those shellac 78 RPM records made it into 33 RPM LPs, but surely not all. And the music on 33s and 45s might have made it onto 8-tracks and cassettes, but did all of it make it to CDs? Certainly not, let alone other digital forms. Or take movies on Betamax/VCR tape, only some of which made it to DVD/BluRay.
So it is heartening to see that some old forms of technology are still hanging on. The LP, while still a small segment of the music business, continues to grow, as the sales of other physical forms of music continue to decline. There was a piece on CBS News Sunday Morning about the resurgence of – are you ready for this? – the typewriter.
Data goes from being current, to woefully out-of-date, to important history. A map of Europe showing the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and two Germanys might have been tossed at the end of the 20th century, but now has contextual value. Check out these old maps online.
Old cars, if they avoid the junk heap, might become antiques; old books, perhaps collector’s items.
I started thinking about this because of an article a young woman wrote, in part speculating whether the book will become obsolete in favor of Kindles, Nooks, and the like. I sure hope not.
LISTEN to Neil Young – Old Man (from the Harvest album )