Thinking in different scales of time reveals problems in our rapid rate of technological progress. Societies last decades and civilization by centuries, but modern storage mediums (tape, floppy disk, CD) last far less than that. How much useful information is now lost because old tape drives decayed or because no device can still read an obsolete storage medium?
- The Clock of the Long Now
- Civilization is composed of fast layers and slow layers to absorb shocks—society moves quickly, but technology moves quicker. What societal shifts might be needed to cope with the shocks of technology?
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Obsolete storage formats present two difficult challenges if they are to be preserved. While we might succeed in preserving the physical storage medium (e.g. magnetic tape decays if not stored properly), it’s much more difficult to preserve the device needed to read the information off of the storage medium. This is ‘the viewing problem’—unlike papers and stone tablets modern storage needs special machinery just to read it. While civilization has preserved tablets that are thousands of years old, our modern technology can’t even last 50 years.
Our senses are attuned to things that change quickly (like the lottery), but this causes us to miss what is actually going on (gambling means losing). If one is to cut through this illusion to what’s real, one needs to take the long view.