Future History

When ever we create a new technology, there’s a question of how long it’s going to last. This particular issue is well worth considering today, when we have planned obsolescence and the latest greatest thing that you absolutely must pay hundreds of dollars for right now will be useless in five years. But I was thinking about the nature of the internet and wondering how long it will survive.

See the ‘net isn’t a single thing, it’s an infrastructure, a collection of many, many technologies working together. Like roads and sewers the technologies change while the structure remains in place. This means that the internet has the potential to keep existing for a very, very long time. The remainder of human history, perhaps. It might even outlive us, if there are others to maintain it.

Since we tend to archive just about everything redundantly, it also allows for things like the Wayback Machine. Already, it’s possible for you to look at websites that are not only no longer maintained by their creators, but gone from their proper domains, too.

How long can those archives last? If we keep backing things up as we upgrade the servers, and keep using redundant systems that are good at maintaining data integrity, those archives could easily last centuries. It doesn’t seem implausible that they could survive as long as the internet itself.

Which means historians of the future will search internet archives to study our civilization. And since this is the beginning of the age of information networks, this period, right now, will be under intense scrutiny. They’ll be digging into our blogs, our videos, our tweets. Searching for understanding of how this age worked, how things changed. How we dealt with the transition to knowledge being so readily available to anyone with a wifi connection.

It’s a little intimidating to think that scholars of the future might be reading these very words and evaluating how accurate my speculation was. It’s also disconcerting to be speaking of my present in the past tense, come to think of it.

I wonder what they’ll think of it all. Will the internet of that time still be mostly nonsense? Will they marvel at how we once had to fight for free speech and used what were usually glorified rumor-mills to communicate vital information during a crisis? Or perhaps they will see it as a natural progression of the information networks we developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, as logical a next step as telegraph to telephone was, as obvious as using radio to coordinate emergency services. Or will they not know at all, will this data be suppressed or destroyed and lost to the people of the future?

A sobering thought, given the many attempts by many governments to censor or control the flow of information. We’ll just have to make sure they fail, so future generations will know what happened today.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on February 13, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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