Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Recording history as it happens

James at Quidnunc posted an entry about the “Digital Doomsday book” that was commissioned in the UK in 1986. At the time I was created to be a modern version of the Doomsday book.

The original was a comprehensive accounting of England that was commissioned by William the conqueror in 1086 so he would have a clear understanding of what he had so recently gained on the field of battle. You can still read the original as it was written in Latin on vellum. Unfortunately the 1986 version was recorded onto specialized videodisks that are now virtually unreadable. Advantage – pen and paper! Hopefully in 2086 when the UK decides to make a 1000 year anniversary Doomsday book they will have learned their lesson an stick to dependable pen and paper.

This is a pet issue for me. If you look on the upper left of this blog at my list of interests (and potential blog topics) one of them is something called ‘scrapbooking’. Essentially scrapbooking is a process of making a personal archive collecting ephemera and family photos to combine them will text to create your own history. Think of a journal combined with a photo album. For me it serves to give me a home for all the photographs that I take (way to many).

The key in scrapbooking is to use archival materials so that the document you create will stand the test of time. Acid free paper (that won’t yellow and crumble) and actually printed pictures (preferably B&W on fiber paper and selenium toned) these are proven to last for 100 years. That is why I am not yet willing to give up my film camera for digital – I just don’t trust the images to be there in the future if they are only recorded as zeroes and ones. As I say to those who argue with me on this point “Last month I printed pictures off negatives from my parents wedding in 1957. However, I can no longer access any of the papers I wrote in High School and recorded on the old big floppy disks.”. My experience leads me to be conservative when recording images or words for the future.

Today we can still read the letters home that our grandfathers wrote from WWI but will we be able to read the e-mails home from Iraq? For those of you out there who have such precious memories only recorded digitally consider printing them out on acid free paper and putting them in a safe place. Hopefully, someday your grandchildren will find them and appreciate them as much as I do my grandfathers letters.


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