A binary life -- is the digital age a new dark age?

A Binary Life: Is the Digital Age a new Dark Age?

This post appeared originally at The Whine Sisters
This post appeared originally at The Whine Sisters

Fair warning — I’m thinking deep thoughts about the digital age in which we are living. Or semi-deep, anyway, as I’m sitting here at the computer, drinking coffee and scrolling through Smithsonian magazine.

I’m thinking about the history of the world. (I warned you) We started out pretty vague, right? Clans, tribes, groups of humans, with their oral histories and stories passed down among groups and families.

Eventually storytelling shifted to songs or poems, because that’s easier to remember than just your average story. But then writing came along, and it was great for keeping records.

Cuneiform, hieroglyphs, etc. Words carved into stone tablets–it doesn’t get more permanent than that, right? But then those cultures discovered early paper, but paper doesn’t last. So from an historian’s point of view, there’s a dark age when the paper records are missing, but the earlier stone records are still around.

Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt both have such periods. And it’s a shame, because even if the stone is just telling how many bushels of wheat a customer bought, that’s still significant.

So, fast forward to today’s world. Here we all are ensconced in our digital age, saving trees (which is a good thing) but recording so many significant transactions in digital forms. And I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen five hundred years from now.

Will the technology still exist to let historians see what we were doing? Or will so much of our culture be lost in a digital haze? (I suppose the books could be lost in 500 years, too, but there’s definitely a higher level of permanence there. Perceived, anyway. Maybe digital is more permanent…so long as you have the key for retrieving the information.)

It’s a particularly interesting question for me because I’m trying to do so much digitally now. Even my journal is digital, since I lost the habit of writing one by hand years ago–or if I do it’s on a “notebook” on my iPad.

Now I send tidbits and photos into an Evernote notebook directly from my iPhone. Voila, instant record. For me at least. For those historians (or alien invaders), that information may not be accessible at all. Of course, I’m not sure the historians or the Aliens care what movie I saw last weekend or what my kids are up to!

How about y’all? Are we opening ourselves up to a whole new Dark Age? Does this stuff bug you at 2am? What Deep Thoughts are on your mind lately?



Carolyn Jewel

When I was in grad school, one of my profs believed that our level of digital documentation = permanent. I tried to explain that even a CD has a shelf life (it’s about 10 years, by the way) and after that you could explain degradation of the bits written to the media.

I wrote my first novel on an Apple IIc, using a program that no longer exists. Even if I found the backup media, it’s highly unlikely that I’d be able to recover that media in a currently readable form.

In fact, I recently destroyed all the 3.44 MB floppies that I’d used for backups years and years ago because I saw no point in keeping them, not even for archival purposes. The day-to-day ephemera of individual accounting of our lives is probably being lost to us in some not-insignificant degree– individuals don’t have the resources to recover and preserve old data.

On the other hand, data that’s living on internet servers is probably not being lost, but it may well not be accessible to others, and that’s going to depend on how important it is to the owner/gatherer of the data.

Then again, will FB be around in 100 years? Probably not and certainly not in its present configuration. Some other transformative technology will come along and (I sincerely hope) the laws will adjust to put some measure of control of personal data back into the hands of the person.

The answer to the question of how long your data will live is proportional to how valuable the data is to the entity that houses it.


Oh, I had an Apple IIe! I loved that machine. It cranked along during law school with a color dotmatrix printer on which I printed my multi-colored outlines.

Memories …

And you’re right of course. I’ve actually started an old-fashioned paper scrapbook for my kids … and as I did I had an epiphany, realizing why scrapbooking has become so popular. It’s a type of blow-back, I think.


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