World Wide Web When?

Boyhowdy Links to The Time Traveler Convention being held next week at MIT. I’m too busy to make it next week — maybe later.

They have published a call for participation and are asking that it be distributed forward in time as completely as possible.

We need you to help PUBLICIZE the event so that future time travelers will know about the convention and attend. This web page is insufficient; in less than a year it will be taken down when I graduate, and furthermore, the World Wide Web is unlikely to remain in its present form permanently. We need volunteers to publish the details of the convention in enduring forms, so that the time travelers of future millennia will be aware of the convention. This convention can never be forgotten! We need publicity in MAJOR outlets, not just Internet news. Think New York Times, Washington Post, books, that sort of thing. If you have any strings, please pull them.

This is a curious, but common, view. We need to back up what’s on the web to “real” media, like paper, or CDs.

The question of “what lasts” is one that is pretty common, and I think there is a natural assumption that the ephemeral nature of the web means that it is less likely to last than, say, clay tablets. There is something to this, of course. The physical nature of something carved in stone suggests that it may, at least, last a long time.

Innis and his later interpreters play this out as time and space compressing technologies. This suggests a dichotomy. A stone tablet is likely to allow for effective communication through time, but is difficult to transport. Television signal is able to quickly travel around the globe, but has a nearly instantaneous life cycle. The web, it seems, belongs to this latter camp. And all we have to do is dig up a cartridge from an Atari 2600, a laserdisk, or, surprisingly perhaps, a VHS tape, to recognize that electronic stuff seems to be lost to us even over a decade, let alone a century.

But it seems to me that we may have missed a shift. The content of Atari 2600 tapes are being liberated from their embodiment, and are being stored on the web, along with virtual machines to run them on. I suspect that television (once people are able to more easily share content from their PVRs to the internet) will also be freed from any particular platform. But does this mean that once interest wanes, they will disappear completely.

That is the implicit reason that even as the Bettmann Archive is being gradually digitally scanned, the original film is kept in cold storage, in an underground archival city, safe(r) from the elements. Sure, the originals will degrade into nothing over the next few thousand years, but the digital version already are nothing.

I have a feeling that the web will gradually shift from being something that needs to be archived (and the Internet Archive is the vanguard here), to being self-archived — think the kind of versioning control found on wikis. I have the feeling that the future time traveler will be turning to archives of the web to find out what was in the New York Times by looking on the Web.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 5/3/2005 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I see here that Michael Froomkin will also be attending late. Clearly he got the idea from me before posting. Need to figure out how he managed that.

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