FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Digital Dark Ages: Movies and Books Get Deleted as Selfies Pile Up

by

Historians and archivists call our times the “digital dark ages.” The name evokes the medieval period that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, which led to a radical decline in the recorded history of the West for 1000 years. But don’t blame the Visigoths or the Vandals. The culprit is the ephemeral nature of digital recording devices. Remember all the stuff you stored on floppy discs, now lost forever? Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen big 8” floppies replaced by 5.25” medium replaced by little 3.5” floppies, Zip discs and CD-ROMs, external hard drives and now the Cloud — and let’s not forget memory sticks and also-rans like the DAT and Minidisc.

We’ll ignore the data lost in computer crashes.

Each transition has seen the loss of countless zillions of documents and images. The irony is that, even as we’re generating more records than any civilization ever, we’re destroying so much important stuff that future generations will hardly know we ever lived.

Google Vice President Vint Cerf recently mused about Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln: “Such a book might not be possible to write about the people living today … the digital content such as emails that an author might need will have evaporated because nobody saved it, or it’s around but it’s not interpretable because it was created by software that’s 100 years old.”

I got to thinking about our civilizational priorities the other day, while managing the photos on my iPhone. Few of us realize it, but the default settings of electronic devices like a smartphone is to keep, rather than erase. Take a photo or video, and Apple wants to send it and save it to all the gadgets on your Apple Store account. If you’re like me (and in this respect, most people are), you take lot more photos than you delete. But even your “deleted” stuff isn’t really deleted — it’s merely moved to a “Deleted Photos” folder. And it lives in the Cloud, like, forever. To really really delete something, you have to double-triple-delete it. Most people don’t bother. So all those mundane iPhone photos — countless pics of your kid at the school concert, boarding passes, the image of the wine you mean to get more of — accumulates.

Partly due to my failure to edit crap like that, some experts a looming data capacity crisis of epic proportions.

Keeping everything is a phenomenon of the digital age. Analog photos were expensive to develop and print. So we took fewer of them. And we didn’t develop them all.

More irony: Even as we’re keeping triplicates of, let’s face it, zillions of documents and images we will never, ever look at again, digitalization is erasing cultural works of epic importance en masse.

Of the 80,000 to 90,000 films considered to be in print on DVD in the United States, only a small fraction have made the leap to streaming. For the most part, this is because companies like Netflix can’t or don’t want to buy the rights for movies whose copyright holders want to get real money. The result is, if you want to see such classics as “The Bicycle Thief” or “Marathon Man,” your only hope is to buy an old used DVD on eBay (assuming you still have a DVD player). Of course, each change of format has left films, many of them important, unavailable to cinephiles. Many great films never made it from VHS to DVD.

Format transitions are also murdering our musical and literary legacies.

When I peruse music streaming services like Apple Music, I’m surprised how many albums by my favorite bands available: sorry, Lords of the New Church. This isn’t new: music geeks hunt down rare 78s for old-timey music that never made it to 33-rpm record. Tons of tunes got lost in the move from vinyl to CD. Maybe it’s the stuff that I like to listen to, but it feels like format loss has been more devastating this time around, as music storage goes from physical to ethereal.

It’s easy to forget how many books aren’t making the jump, especially when corporations sell products like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, which lets you read any of 600,000 titles for a fee. Many titles, including some by big-name authors like Philip Roth and John Updike, aren’t there.

In case you were wondering, there were 129 million books in the world as of 2010.

Subscribe to Kindle “Unlimited,” then, and you’ve got access to less than 0.5% of the world’s books. But don’t worry, you’ll always have those photos of the school play.

Until you get a new phone.

More articles by:

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail