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Tuesday, 08 June 2021


That of which there is one, can be easily made into none.
That which is easily many, will soon be as rare as a penny.

Even though the NYT has been unable or unwilling to make the referenced photographs available to subscribers, the photographs (or their digital representations) in question are quite available at no cost and high quality to anyone with an internet connection.


But what about the Way Back Machine at the Internet Archive? That wonderful website allows viewing of web pages as they were in the past.

Sometimes when I go to YouTube I click on a video only after deciding which I want to see next. When I finish the first and click back, the second has been removed-and sometimes I can’t even remember what it was... Was I deprived of a possible life changing opportunity, or granted a few more moments to create one?

That second example really hits the nail on the head! Previously censored; out-bloody-standing!

As has been said many times if you want the image to last, Print it!

Which is why, in my gut, I feel like my photos are not 'real' until I print them. Aside from those vagaries you mention, a random power surge or magnetic field can wipe out a digital file. Granted, a paper print is ephemeral but a digital file is ultra-ephemeral.

Sure, but if I understand correctly, both the examples you chose show the preservation of incorrect information, which can be easily fixed. How do we correct all the stuff in “permanent” books (for example) that we know know to be wrong?

I am sure the data will exist - we'll encode it into self-replicating DNA or something. But there won't be any hardware to read it, or the software to translate it into the analogue world. I've still got cassette tapes with ASCII code from my home-made word processing attempts in the early 1980s (Microbee computer, if anyone down under remembers those), not to mention 8 inch floppies. The data is all there ...

A spider web on a breezy morning is perfect.

Artworks are ephemeral.

Documents are ephemeral.

Civilisations are ephemeral.

Humanity is ephemeral.

All perfect.

Perpetuity, however, …….

I spent some effort, decades ago, researching information preservation in the realm of medical records. My conclusion was that the core issue was an entanglement of resources and wealth. It takes resources to marshal the technology of the day into a ‘collection’ of information and on going wealth to maintain that collection. It will always be tempting to parlay the content of the collection into money to help maintain it.

Hand written texts needed to be copied periodically to preserve them. Skins lasted longer than paper, but paper was eventually in greater supply and became the dominant technology. Scribes needed to be trained to read and faithfully write, but even then, misspelling, mistakes, additions and deletions happened.

We know, because collectors/librarians made catalogs, that the amount of texts written was much larger than what we have copies of today. The printing press and continual technological advance vastly increased both the numbers of texts and the numbers of collections. This increased the likelihood of preservation into the future of certain texts worth collecting or re-printing. Print technology had a shorter lifespan, especially as it moved into low cost mass production, so the old issue of needing to arrange for a re-print (copy and the new Scribe, the copy editor) remained as well as the ongoing costs of maintaining all the libraries. The cycle times for copy preservation were shorter and the amount of what might be copied perhaps exponentially greater.

The shift to the latest technology, digital, didn’t really change the fundamentals. You still need to arrange for a copy operation from an old and somewhat rickety technology to a shiny new bit of technology ( a copy and transcoding operation done programmatically but needing a programmer with specialized training to create the process), you have to acquire the technologies and you have an ongoing expenditure of wealth to keep it all accessible. The life expectancy of digital storage is shorter than paper. Cycle times for copying became shorter again. The sheer volume of what might be preserved could be another exponential jump.

Information, however it might be recorded and stored, was never free but the marginal cost of preservation is trending lower per unit, but the amount of information that might be preserved is trending higher.

I used the phrase ‘might be preserved’ repeatedly to emphasize that a human values derived selection process is at work alongside the technology.

I'm wih Benjamin Marks (and others) on this.

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