Cerf & the “Digital Dark Age”

If you’re like me, you’ve been warned by parents, teachers and friends alike that whatever you put online “is out there forever.”

However terrifying that might seem when thinking of your 2006 MySpace posts, it’s a pretty phenomenal thing to think about in general — that we have a digital connected history book of oodles of information that is exponentially expanding over time that we can access with ease. That’s exciting for every field including and especially for journalism (also to any person who likes knowledge).

I picture my grandchildren’s children writing history papers and being able to look at social leaders’ and presidents’ entire online lives. I picture archives of every category of information: people, science, politics, news, books, wars, history, etc.

But one of our founding fathers of this country we call The Internet, Vint Cerf (now a big dog at Google), says the Internet may not be as permanent as we think.

He says it’s possible that 20 to 30 years from now, both the bits of information we store today and software that can interpret that information won’t exist.

As software rapidly evolves, backwards compatibility is not guaranteed.  You may have experienced this when you try to open an elementary school PowerPoint presentation, for example, and aren’t able to read some parts of it.

Cerf is now working on a project that would hold all digital information, the software that reads it, and the hardware that it runs on.

Cerf described the idea to BBC News: “The solution is to take an X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time. And that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future.”

For the sake of journalism, of access to information, of continuing to progress as a globally-connected society, I hope Cerf’s project — or something like it — is successful.

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