Prepare to be amazed. It is the year 1514 and you are resident in a town in south west France where you might work as a carpenter. Your house and your work room has no electricity, no running water, and no glass in the windows. You cannot read and write beyond the marks you use on wood in your work. There are no books in your …
Evocative writing and a good point about storage!
digital curation infinitely.
Wow solution 1: wear a helmet that gives you a little electric shock when you see something from the analogue stored in the digital that should evoke awe.
Wow solution 2: (Taking the piss) 3D TV...
500 years is a drop in the bucket...
Here is a book (that all of our progeny should read) that poses some great questions.
Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia, by Gregory Benford.
For example (and I am very-very-very loosely paraphrasing here, as my own copy of the book was eaten by my dog.)
How should former US President George W. Bush warn his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-(etc.) grand children about not going spelunking around in Yucca Mountain?
A well-written and thoughtful piece . The whole area of digital format and media obsolescence is at once very familiar to everybody who can't play their cassette tapes any more, and widely ignored in business and the private sector. Access to material on paper tape, or Hollerith cards, or even 8" and 5.25" magnetic disks, is very difficult. We have no idea how long an "archival quality" DVD will actually remain physically readable, even if we maintain a DVD reader in working condition.
Our modern technologies give us unparalleled availability of information, particularly images, but nothing like the durability that vellum and painted glass is *known* to have. There's a reason that the well-off still like to hire a man with a hairy stick to smear pigment on canvas in a representation of their fair visages: they know it will last.
 I'll even forgive the appearance of an "alter" in the cathedral for quality like this :)
I feel like that carpenter having read that amongst the diatribe that normally adorns these walls.
You realise you will probably be sacked for attempting to raise the tone in here!
3,5" is impossible here ...
came across a 3.5" floppy a few weeks ago, and had a brief "wow" moment as I realised there was no way I could read it. No PC in the house has a floppy drive. None at work ... to be honest I would struggle to know where to start to buy one (checks ebuyer) ... OK it's not that hard. But it's certainly a glimpse into how things are going.
When Jimmy Page worked on the Led Zeppelin DVD, apart from the fact that the actual film had deteriorated badly, there were only 2 editing desks in the world capable of playing it back, despite the fact it had been "the" standard in the 70s.
From the Athiest
If you want jaw-dropping impact
I humbly suggest goat.se
Digital dark age
But who is going to take on the administration task of preserving of today's digital content through many, many generations of technology? I'm afraid we're in a digital dark age now. As the article says, stained glass will last a long time, as long as you don't break it. With paper (OK, maybe not acid paper...), all you have to do is keep it dry and stop it catching fire, and it will last for centuries. Anything in the digital domain is going to take a LOT more effort. The more sophisticated the technology, the shorter its useful lifespan, I'm afraid.
Been there, done that...
Well, it is only just down the road from me!
Since when was the 1500s the Stone Age?
Just sayin' - that's all.
Damned good article though - I do a little work making stained glass panels myself. Nothing on that scale or level of competence obviously, though.
I really love writers who make me rethink how we use technology.
I read this over my morning coffee and made a note to save a pdf when I got to the office. I work at a university in California. My first troubleshoot of the day concerned an art professor who was complaining that the bright new projector we installed made the images of Baroque paintings look too dark.
I met him in the classroom to tweak the display settings for his Macbook. I reset the gamma to 1.8 (Apple has made the default 2.2) and various other tweaks. We never got it perfect, but he's much happier. During the process, we talked about how much we both miss slides, with their color correction and infinite resolution. I sent him a link to this article. I hope he shares it with his collegues.
Slides do _not_ have infinite resolution. An ISO 50 slide can have a very high resolution indeed, but it is not infinite. The resolution is set by the grain size of the photgraphic emulsion. Higher ISO rating film has larger grains, so you get faster exposure at the cost of lower resolution.
Thanks for the well done and thought-provoking article. Thomas Cahill does a good job with variations on this concept in his various works, but yours I believe does the best job of representing the ancient experience.
That is the best article ever from TheRegister...
wonderful reality check
That was a wonderful realitiy and perspective check. You captured the mood and the awe of the carpenter perfectly.
Thank you for writing and sharing this. I've printed it off, and it's stuck on the wall of my cube as I type this.
I raise a beer in your honour.
Reality check, slight return
Evocative writing, but factually pretty rubbish.
Stained-glass wasn't unknown to the common people back then. Maybe their own church might not have had it, but chances are pretty good that a larger church nearby might have done. The lord, priest and a few richer merchants would probably have a few glass windows in their houses. As a carpenter - a skilled artisan - he'd likely be in contact with other artisans from other professions too, so even given the lack of communications technology he probably wouldn't be more than 10 years behind the state-of-the-art in Europe.
And whilst he might not have been able to read and write (although as a member of a guild it's quite possible he would), he'd still be a very technically competent, meticulous and intelligent person. After all, if you want to build a three-storey wooden house, you don't just clag it together and hope. He'd be well familiar with making plans and scale drawings.
The "bereft of graphic images" thing is also 100% wrong, at least for Britain and almost certainly for France too. Every church would be covered floor-to-ceiling with painted plasterwork in the brightest colours possible. Think of a religious-fanatic graffiti artist let loose on the inside with pots of the brightest colours they had (every colour except blue, incidentally) and you're somewhere in the ballpark. And a moderately-well-off artisan would almost certainly have some kind of art present - as a carpenter it'd likely be carvings done by him, but painting has always been democratic in who gets the ability, so chances are there'd be at least one person in a village able to paint. Paintings back then would have been done on wood (supplied by our carpenter for free if he's getting the painting, no doubt), and would have used natural pigments (no cost beyond the time to find them), so no huge cost there.
The big deal for a cathedral, then as now, was simply the massively oversized scale of it. A JPEG certainly can't capture the effect of that, but this is hardly news, is it? Bit of a disappointment really - some nice (if factually-incorrect) writing to start with, but leading to a blandly-obvious conclusion.
So, Analogue is ok, then?
Nice of you to bring some records around for me to listen to. Yes, of course, I've got a deck.
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