Cuneiform vs. digital
I have previously lamented that the destruction of data in the digital age represents a greater loss of information in modern times than was even experienced with the fall of empires in the past - specifically the Roman Empire - and that we can more easily talk of a new Dark Age because of it rather than of an Information Age. It is a misfortune of the easy of use of the “Delete” button that people do not take full account of what is erased (and lost). And the failure of people to become more intelligent in this so-called ‘information’ age is a symptom.
I delete a lot, too. Periodically I clean up my E-mail Inbox and Sent box to get rid of junk. Why do I still need to keep my work schedule from September 2009? Sure, it might not be September 2009 right now. But who knows what the future will bring? Nevertheless I deleted it, and other things like it. But I was not unaware of the irony of destroying information while doing so.
Sure, it might not be September 2009 right now, but who knows what the future will bring?
The writings of ancient Mesopotamian cultures that used cuneiform writing on clay tablets became effectively immortalized because of the difficulty of destroying hardened clay. There are many tens of thousands of these ancient clay tablets recovered and preserved in museums and universities around the world that today’s common people know nothing about because we don’t have access to them and see them. But in fact there exists today a fair record of the daily memoranda of those ancient Mesopotamian peoples, records of mundane things that they wrote on clay intending only for temporary use but which by the accidents of hardened clay in nature have been preserved for thousands of year. By comparison, later and more sophisticated cultures - Greece and Rome - wrote on much more perishable material, papyrus. So while great literary works from those cultures survive through continuous copying, the “daily memoranda” or their lives is lost. The original writing revolution, in which cuneiform was imprinted on clay, was very much an information revolution in the same way that many moderns talk of this current time being an information revolution. Except that the cuneiform revolution persists even today, and in a more durable form than mere silicon chips.
Or maybe not. This idea of the “daily memoranda” of life brings me to reconsider digital communication. It’s true that we use the “Delete” button to erase a lot and without giving it much thought. But we also put a lot on the Internet. I have my blog, for example, from which I do not delete anything (except for that unfortunate accident in June 2012 when I deleted the entire thing, but was later able to re-post it thanks to backup copying). I guess that, essentially, once we put something onto the Internet it will be there for centuries to come, even after Google and Yahoo have long since ceased to exists. Future generations will be able to read all our old blog diaries, our “daily memoranda.”