Library of Alexandria - Wikipedia

The Library of Alexandria:

It’s always been quite human to aspire to record things to remember, whether it be which berries are poisonous to a special occasion with a loved one. In terms of evolution, forgetting was disadvantageous, and remembering essential for survival. In the book “Delete”, the first three chapters highlights humans’ journey of forgetting and remembering, alterations of human hardware for optimal survival.

The book starts off with two stories of people who were both in similar situations due to the “remembering” nature of digital technology- both having something recorded and shared impacting them negatively years later. The author then continues to warn the reader of search engines such as Google, that keep a precise record of our search history, emphasising this with “A good dozen other sites around the world account for at least another 200 million users” and that number has certainly grown in the past decade due to the advancement and norm to have a smart phone and thus social media. This obviously has implications of privacy issues, but may also argue that if we don’t our information recorded and tracked then we should never search it up- linking to an ethical issue with digital citizenship. “Instead of protecting citizens from overbearing surveillance and memory, policy makers are compelling private sector data collectors to perfect the digital memory of all of us, and keep it easily accessible for public agencies from the intelligence community to law enforcement.  

The author then goes on to discuss in the next chapter exactly how humans have developed to forget and remember certain things, for example the introduction of language. Language enabled us to pass on information easily to others, as a sort of external storage, which allowed us to store memories in others essentially. The introduction of writing and drawing also allowed us to store thoughts and emotions during a present moment in a physical piece of paper or canvas, which could be retrieved without much trouble.

However, there are obviously flaws with all three methods for remembering. For example, if the other person was there during the experience and you told them your perspective, if you asked the other person to recall the experience, they would tell it slightly differently and according to their own perspective; the memory would be exponentially distorted with every person the information was passed onto.

Writing could recall memories with accuracy without the distortion of someone else, but with the consequence of possible forgery. As well as this, the skill of writing was and is only available to certain groups of people, libraries only historically being of use to royalty. Since the actual process of writing and reading was still only available to the richest and most educated, there was a lot of control over what was recorded, mainly from the church and whatever was in power at the time. Even when I’m writing this blogpost, I wrote down notes from the book as I read it in order to save myself time in finding sentences to quote and reminding myself of what I was reading, demonstrating just how useful literacy is as a skill. 

Libraries did of course, become available to the public which solved an issue of equality of access, however with them came the expectation of perfect memory and accurate depiction of history, setting the basis for our modern digital archives.

Printing press - Wikipedia

A printing press:

Printing and actual copying machines also started to pop up, however the author notes that different cultures had different outlooks on printing and copying- “in islam, printing instead of copying was seen as blasphemy…in china printing presses were [already] known for centuries…the koreans too had developed a printing press using moveable type”. This accelerated the speed at which information could be shared, as now you could be sent a copy of a manuscript instead of having to travel to see it yourself. 

Photography and photo develop also started to develop, however starting out quite expensive, costing about a worker’s weekly salary. Similar to the low quality paper used to write on at the time that would disintegrate a couple years after usage, Dagurreo-type photos were one of a kind and could not be reproduced”.

A printer that creates self-destructing paper (shown) has been unveiled. The device was created by Newcastle photographer Diego Pisanty. It is part of a project called 'This Tape Will Self Destruct'. Its name is in homage to the 1966 spy series Mission Impossible, which also spawned several movies

Printer that makes self destructing paper:

The “Self destructing paper” notion still exists in fact, via the This tape will self destruct project from 2014 that created a printer which coats documents in potassium salt and glycerol, which react exothermically and set the paper on fire. The creator, Dieogo Pisanty, himself said: “I don’t think the security agencies will be using this technology any time soon. They’re more interested in encryption for digital files. There isn’t much need for the destruction of hard-copy documents any more.” From 2009 (when Delete was published) to 2014, digitization created a rapid shift in memory retrieval.

The author expands on the effects of digitization in chapter 3, as well as the effects of digital storage prices decreasing, easy retrieval and global reach.

The main reason the author highlights of digitization’s rapid growth, is because most of the time media such as music, film, movies and radio will decrease in quality over time- a record player will get used  and wear down eventually, and DVDs may get scratched. However, digital versions of these medias won’t wear down, and its quality won’t decrease if copied or shared; “noise can be avoided and thus quality does not diminish over time”. The author uses an example of digital music for this. As well as ease of sharing, you only need to search and download from a common source in order to listen, instead of having to get a physical copy of the CD or record which may have noise and diminished quality if it was copied over. 

UNIVAC - CHM Revolution

UNIVAC computer:

The first electronic digital computer, the UNIVAC, was sold for millions of USD in 1951, despite the fact that it wouldn’t even be able to fit this blogpost in it, having a storage capacity equivalent to 1000 words. Since, price per megabyte of storage has decreased exponentially, as the author says by 1980 it was just under 500USD for a MB, then 1 cent in 2000 and 1/100 of a cent in 2008. He says “the increase in storage capacity continues to match human appetite for additional storage”, and at this point, “storing in digital format was more affordable than paying for conventional film prints”. When email services like google or yahoo started to offer free storage for emails you send through them and photo services followed, there became no use for physical storage of memories. As well as this, as prices decreased so that they were practically constant, storage capacities kept increasing, to the point where “consumers prefer higher capacity disks at a constant price to same size storage at lower costs”, according to one study the author mentions.

This implies the expectation of permanent, practically unlimited memory, which then feeds the incentive to share and store all you want. This obviously has implications of privacy and safety of intellectual property, because as said before, most if not all things people share is tracked and stored even if they choose to delete it. This would make whatever you share, vulnerable for use against you, even in the far future when you’ve forgotten you even shared it. 

Kodak falls in the 'creative destruction of the digital age' | Business | The Guardian

The kodak logo:

The photography and film company Kodak were the giants of their respective industry, in 1976, but were on the road to bankruptcy by 2005. They paved the road for cheaper cameras, encouraging photography and cheaper film processing. In an article by diyphotography, it’s said that whilst they acknowledged the rise of digital cameras and produced them, they weren’t focusing on them enough, “underestimating how big digital would get”. However, they made the bulk of their profit from physical film. “With digital cameras, there was no film and no prints,” and thus since they weren’t selling enough digital cameras, their profit started to decline. They are a prime example of negative economic impacts of digitization, whilst simultaneously pushing for the positive ones.

Lastly, globalisation and the introduction of global digital networks increased the reaches of information and “eliminate this constraint of physical presence”. “As costs came down, the richness of the information accessible through the  global network increased too, from simple text to high definition video”. Expanding on making copies and sharing original information, the author says how the cost of this mainly goes into production of the original copy, because relative to that, the cost of sharing it is negligible.

This means that if one has an information database or storage, they would want to utilise it as much as possible and in as many ways as possible. The development of the internet meant that as well as receiving information, it was easier to share, internationally. And when you share this information, you entrust it to anyone who sees it and the system that stores it. This then leads to the sharing of information without much thought, which can be harmful if “de and recontextualized because pieces of information are retrieved without their accompanying contexts and presented in a new context of search results”.

So far in summary, the author touches on the history of methods humans have employed to store and share information, and explains the rise of digital storage to replace analogue methods. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, and the solutions the author has to offer.


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