Watching a documentary about underage British soldiers in WWI. They presented many cases of mail, not email but letters, from the soldier to parents and loved ones, and from parents to their children. And it struck me that much of the domestic history we view is wrapped up in letters. Paper letters, written most often longhand, and delivered by whatever postal method existed at the time.
One of the most important archeological artifacts of our time is called The Rosetta Stone. which is really only a set of decrees. Not some piece of literature in a library, but a plain bit of government ‘paperwork’ . It provided a vital key in cross translation that was missing in ancient Egyptian language.
Moving forward, to current times, I look at the way my wife and I treat our emails. I have always kept my in folders in my email system. My wife will always print any important email, then delete everything else in the inbox. She never keeps email electronically. Bill Gates mentioned that the Blu-Ray, HD DVD media will be the last physical media ever produced. And while I doubt this, it brings up an important issue. Who will document us as a people in the future, and with what? If all future media, literature, emails, communications will be stored in ephemeral media electronically or otherwise. What will tell of our stories in the future?
If the electronic history is anything, it is a story of change. Changing protocols formats, (ASCII, Unicode) different document formats, and storage media. If say, I had keep my resume on 8 inch Floppies, who in the future would be able to read my CV on a IBM-3740 format encoded in BCD and what “Rosetta Stone” would they be using?
When is the last time you watched a movie about a lost or misdirected email in a romantic setting. Letters, yes, email not a chance. What if Shakespeare, had written his works in WordStar version 1? Would anyone value a newly discovered e-manuscript? Or even be able to read it? Not a chance. Physical media, substance, printed materials, BOOKS, will survive. They are our future for history.
Massachusetts may have hit upon a weak link in this electronic history when it attempted to standardize on an open document for future government documents. These may prove to be the future Rosetta stone for the historians. A method to remember the meaning of all language translations, or not.
But for now, I think I’m going to stop saving my important documents in PDF. and start printing them on good low acid paper and black ink. (and who said computers would make a paperless office ;-))