Posted by on 15/06/2010

I saw this video a while back and it really tickled my funny bone. I would be hard pressed to even give you a detailed rundown of what I did last Tuesday let alone events one thousand years distant.

I am currently half way through Jaques Barzun’s epic historical roller coaster ride “From Dawn to Decadence” and it is absolutely fascinating to read about famous-at-the-time but now completely obscure poets, artists, musicians, statesmen and Natural Philosophers who have fallen outside the narrow spotlight of our historical gaze but have exerted enormous influence on later works of art and science and the course of the modern world.

At first it seems absurd that these satirical “historians” in the video don’t simply watch archived clips of YouTube or consult Google or Wikipedia to get their “facts” straight – we are after all living in an age of hyper documentation that the Beatles easily fall inside – but on second thought, especially with Barzun’s book in mind, historical recollection is incredibly fallible. A few arbitrary tags here and there, a lazy archivist or straight up computer glitch may wreak havoc on data systems trying to sort and file the data for later extraction.

Given one thousand years to self replicate and self repair with little to no human intervention you can easily imagine some weird connections and aggregations being made.

Add to this the sheer scale of information these future historians would have to sift through and the probability that unrelated and inaccurate data become conflated rises algorithmically. Not to mention that the difference between a .jpeg and .wav are entirely human constructs, computers merely shifts galaxies of ones and zeroes back and forth and in the end it is humans (or alien archeologists) who will have to make sense of all the data in the end.

Finally and most chillingly of all digital media is integrally dependent on electronic devices to be stored and retrieved, what happens when cataclysmic events or wars disrupt our current mediums?

How will an alien archeologist read data from a memory stick or plastic DVD buried in the sand? At that point a printed TV guide from Japan would be of more use and what kind of a world would they construct from a weeks worth of Japanese TV?

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