I recently read online someone call libraries warehouses of dead books. It might have been on Seth Godin’s blog.
As I currently sit in a library surrounded by books that were deemed worthy of being read and likely to be desired by patrons, but are also likely to go untouched, I wonder what use can we gain from them in the future. This problem extends beyond books as well. There’s so much content produced online that most of it will go barely seen or completely unseen for eternity. Was it all for naught? Does that mean they have no value?
I think every single last book, article, picture, vlog, meme, gif, whatever should be preserved, especially digitally. I think that doing so could provide at least two potential benefits to the future.
Library of the Passed
All of this content saved and preserved as closely as possible in its original form and context will serve as a way for future generations, assuming the internet or even humans for that matter still exist, to look into the past and experience it as we did.
Have you ever wondered what life was like in the past? We have very little idea what life was like day-to-day for most of human history. To put it in perspective, our first human-like ancestors were said to have appeared 6 million years ago. Modern humans are believed to have appeared approximately 300,000 years ago. Recorded history has only existed for the past 5,000 years. We only have the beginnings of written accounts of life for less than 2% of modern human history.
Visual accounts of everyday life have existed for a much shorter period of time. Photography has existed for the past 200 years. Moving pictures have existed for the last 100 years. Cell phone cameras have existed for about the past 20 years.
My point is, so much of history has been lost. Who knows how we could benefit if we had access to that information, every little bit. We have the opportunity now to provide more of that for future generations.
Algorithm of the Past
My second point is what if all of the materials could be analyzed by some future A.I. and unforeseen patterns could be gleaned from it. You know, like a Google algorithm, but more sophisticated. That brings to mind Seth Stephen-Davidowitz’s book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, in which he discusses how analyzing aggregate data from Google search queries can reveal interesting and often counterintuitive predictions such as what states are likely to vote for a political candidate.
Maybe a future A.I. can scour all of those blog posts and YouTube videos no one read and watched and determine that none of us knew what we were doing with our lives and that’s why catastrophic event XYZ happened.
Besides human-induced cataclysmic events, where are we headed for the future? Where is technology headed in regards to documenting the everyday experience of people? Will we one day be able to re-experience all of the emotions, sensations, and thoughts of people of the past? Will we be able to slip into a virtual recreation/recording of the past world and walk around in it as if on a journey with the ghost of Christmas past?