Some time ago I blogged about digital imaging and what it might mean for the sharing of information about our lives with future generations. You can check out the blog post here, but basically I was saying that with the advent of digital photography we now store our photographic life stories on hard drives or other electronic storage devices that will not get passed on to future generations in the way the ubiquitous shoebox full of old family photos is now.
I was reminded of this the other day when listening to a radio discussion about the growing popularity of e-readers and the projected demise of the physical book as we know it. When that happens (and it’s already well on the way to becoming reality) what will become of the family Bible, passed on from generation to generation and carefully annotated with important dates and life events? And what about the collections of significant, or even rare, books so carefully built up over a lifetime that provide an insight into the person who valued the ideas communicated by the authors? They will simply no longer exist.
When you add letters (replaced by email) and postcards (replaced by texting, messaging, or tweeting) to the list it becomes apparent that we will be leaving less and less to our children and grandchildren by way of artefacts that can be used to understand our time and how we lived as individuals, couples, and families.
It’s not the same at the societal level. Technology has long since outstripped Gutenberg when it comes to the collection and sharing of information. Entire libraries, art collections, music collections are now online, stored forever in some great repository in the sky for us and future generations to study and enjoy. Those collections are maintained by corporations and trusts with the financial and technical wherewithal to do so. But they don’t include the technological equivalent of the family photo shoebox or letters traded between your parents during the war. Those and their equivalents will be lost forever to future generations, having been seized by the vortex only to disappear into the electronic black hole.
Perhaps for future generations the most highly anticipated and sought after bequest will be a master password that will open up the vault containing our electronic lives. (Everything but Facebook one would hope.) But until then I’m afraid that the pickings will be quite slim for the next couple of generations. Too bad really.