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Historians Fear 21st Century Will Be 'Black Hole'

| 25 Jan 2009 13:59
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The British Library has expressed concerns that the way we use technology will leave future generations in the dark.

Our conversion to a digital society is worrying many librarians, as images, information and correspondence that would have endured through the ages in previous generations instead sits as a clutch of binary code on a hard drive, unseen and usually unpreserved.

Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library said, "Too many of us suffer from a condition that is going to leave our grandchildren bereft; I call it personal digital disorder. Think of those thousands of digital photographs that lie hidden on our computers. Few store them, so those who come after us will not be able to look at them. It's tragic."

As technology improves and older devices become obsolete, the information stored within runs the risk of becoming lost. The BBC's Doomsday Project of 1986, intended as a record of the state of the nation, was recorded on 12" video disks for example and only survives today thanks to a specialist team rescuing it in 2000.

The British Library has plans to compile an archive of 'notoriously ephemeral' material from UK websites, a monumental task to say the least, and have worked with Microsoft to unlock millions of files created using now defunct operating systems. They've also managed to get government agencies to cooperate by storing e-mails at the National Archives at Kew.

Some historians however, are worried that in our efforts to preserve the important information, we're in danger of being saddled with a lot of digital detritus. Tristan Hunt, of Queen Mary College in London said, "It's essential that mainstream institutions such as the National Gallery or the White House or the Ministry of Defence keep email correspondence... On the other hand, we're producing much more information these days than we used to, and not all of it is necessary. Do we want to keep the Twitter account of Stephen Fry or some of the marginalia around the edges of the Sydney Olympics? I don't think we necessarily do."

Source: The Guardian

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