The Digital Dark Age And Bene Gesserit House Records

According to Jerome P. McDonough, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the bewildering array of information storage devices and hardware platforms could lead to a "digital dark age," an era in which we will flounder helplessly in the midst of an information glut.

"If we can't keep today's information alive for future generations," McDonough said, "we will lose a lot of our culture."

Contrary to popular belief, electronic data has proven to be much more ephemeral than books, journals or pieces of plastic art. After all, when was the last time you opened a WordPerfect file or tried to read an 8-inch floppy disk?

"Even over the course of 10 years, you can have a rapid enough evolution in the ways people store digital information and the programs they use to access it that file formats can fall out of date," McDonough said.

Magnetic tape, which stores most of the world's computer backups, can degrade within a decade. According to the National Archives Web site by the mid-1970s, only two machines could read the data from the 1960 U.S. Census: One was in Japan, the other in the Smithsonian Institution. Some of the data collected from NASA's 1976 Viking landing on Mars is unreadable and lost forever.


(Jerome P. McDonough describes the coming 'digital dark age')

Science fiction fans have already been to this era. In his 1984 novel Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert gave us a peek into the House Records of the Bene Gesserit, an organization with archives that spanned thousands of years of human activity.

The holoprojector flickered with its continuing production above the table top - more bits and pieces that she had summoned.

Taraza rather distrusted Archivists, which she knew was an ambivalent attitude because she recognized the underlying necessity for data. But Chapter House Records could only be viewed as a jungle of of abbreviations, special notations, coded insertions, and footnotes. Such material often required a Mentat for translation or, what was worse in times of extreme fatigue demanded that she delve into Other Memories. ...You could never consult Archival Records in a straightforward manner.
(Read more about Herbert's Bene Gesserit House records)

It's interesting to note that the use of the system eventually requires the use of Mentats as highly evolved information specialists. Information management in the Egyptian era required an entire social class of specialists; I don't see why our era should be any different.

From Physorg.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/10/2008)

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