How to make information inflammable

Last Friday, I went over to the Internet Archive and met Brewster Kahle. I remember Danny interviewing him for the Irish Times and being blown away by all the projects Brewster’s involved in and his sheer energy and enthusiasm. Its all true. I don’t really have heroes, but Brewster is definitely not a mortal.

Where I work, there’s been a culture change project with the slogan ‘cut the crap’. Its great, but its aim is pretty modest – to try and cut down the stifling gas of bureaucracy inside the organisation. Is that as high as we can aim? Cutting down on meetings and cynicism is one thing, but trying to get a million books available at a dollar each to people all over the world – now *thats* something to wake up for in the morning.

Danny’s Oblomovka piece is a much better description of the projects than I could write, so go there to learn more about the man. In the light of Cory’s talk at ETCON, this quote jumped out at me:

“The history of libraries is this: they get burnt down. By governments. I’m not anti-government: I’m a librarian, not a libertarian. But that’s the truth.”

A new definition of Public Service: make sure the stuff we make can’t get burnt. Its not enough to just make stuff anymore – we can’t just fire it out into the ether and sit back feeling smug. All the radio and tv broadcasts since Marconi are still out there somewhere, beaming past the solar system decades after they were made. News coverage of 9/11? Just past Jupiter last time I checked. The Moon Landings? probably halfway to Alpha Centuri. But that’s a fat lot of good if you happen to be stuck on planet earth, and still want to see them.

We can’t send a thousand Tivos into space to catch all this stuff, but we can make sure the stuff is still available down here. The blocks to doing this are normally either rights issues or cost of digitisation and storage. Larry Lessig has answered one question, Brewster Kahle the other. Lets cut the crap and do it.

One comment

  1. simonf

    Digitising is hardly going to help.
    While we’ve lost some great works due to fires such as those in the Great Library of Alexandria, the chances are that copies of most printed works still exist. We’ve got almost all the great Greeks, f’r instance.

    What happens as digital media becomes obsolete though? Vide the Doomsday Book project on (ferchristsakes) laser disc.

    And even stored under controlled conditions in the bottom of a salt mine, all current digital storage media degrade — and far faster than paper.

    What really needs to be done is for it all to be transferred to parchment which is even better than paper, especially modern paper which is filled with acids.

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