Humanity's informational archive™

038 May 3, 2015 -- (asphalt)

The following is a loose translation of a short essay published about three years ago on the old blog in Romanian. Bear with me here, for its style of writing is, I believe, less succinct and more jocular than what you're used to reading on The Tar Pit. I would never publish it, however, if I didn't think the content wasn't relevant in some way or another.

They say of the Great Library of Alexandria that it was the vastest and most important repository of knowledge in Ancient history, at least until the Romans came and burned it. Unfortunately there wasn't a Second Library of Alexandria, or at least a Second Library of \(X\), where \(X \neq \text{Alexandria}\), which would contain backup copies of all the burned books; and if it had existed, then they would have burned it a second time before the scribes had the time to make new copies.

Fortunately for us, modern civilization had something to learn from that and by mere chance the Internet appeared out of nowhere, an Internet which keeps on growing seemingly without end. And of course, like monkeys that don't see the forest because of the trees, we imagine that Internets exist exclusively to serve our lusts, fetishes and thirst for communication and connection and other crap. Might be, I'm not arguing that, but the fact is that (another) important purpose of the Internet is quite similar to that of the library mentioned above, a function which I dubbed the "humanity's informational archive™"1.

It being such an archive, one of the Internet's main purposes is that of archiving, that is, keeping information as intact as it is possible, that is, as close to the way it looked when it was initially generated. In order for it to fulfill this role, the Internet's infrastructure readily comprises fault tolerance mechanisms at multiple levels, from RAID technologies to higher level protocols such as BitTorrent2.

Additionally our internetic library fulfills a purpose that goes two ways: ensuring free access to information, a function that is successfully implemented by the Internet in its actual form, and ensuring scalability and the facilitation of continuous update, so that the network will naturally evolve and won't crumble under its own weight. Both are necessary conditions for the existence of the humanity's informational archive™; the first because a library that does not allow free access cannot be replicated until the Romans come to burn it, thus it faces the greater risk of disappearing; the second because as time passes, an incomplete archive would not be worthy of being called such.

While ensuring the system's scalability is a purely technical matter which might prove to bring forth interesting challenges in the future3, the continuous update of Internet happens in a way such that it can be continuized4, as I'm now writing a post, \(X\) writes yet another and meanwhile millions of people publish stuff on various social networks -- let me humour you by saying that Facebook's Timeline actually serves a well-defined purpose.

It might be that you, dear reader, haven't considered this aspect, but it has huge repercussions on the history of the human race. The properties mentioned above guarantee that history will be remembered with a degree of accuracy we haven't seen until now, as the smallest details about the most unimportant individual will exist somewhere and will be a great sight for the people in the year 252525, who will laugh their asses off5 at stuff that nowadays are dead serious to us.

Getting back to the initial idea, we know that modern technology now allows us to fill the humanity's informational archive™ with content comprising text, audio, video and... that's about it. I'm fairly sure that I'm not lying when I say that these three forms of expression comprise but a small part of our lives. So how will you, for example, get to record olfactory-gustatory data of your culinary recipes, to be later compared by your great-grandchildren with what they'll have had then? Well, you can't do that. How will you store that intense orgasm that you had when you made fierce love with Jocelyn? Who wouldn't want to relive such a moment later in their lives, or, yet again, to hope that the weirdos in 252525 will have some terms for comparison6? Nope, this kind of thing isn't technically achievable for now.

So for now the question remains: will we get to interact with the Internet in this manner in the next hundred of years? Stay tuned and you shall find out.

  1. So yeah, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian are part of the great mass of information that humanity has to offer. Just ask Google and Facebook.

  2. So in the great scheme of things it would seem that piracy is doing a great service to humanity. There, you've read it here, out of context, but not out of importance.

  3. For example we can barely speculate about the possibility of extending the Internet at an interplanetary scale, although we can freely speculate regarding its necessity in the (quite very) possible case when that happens.

  4. The opposite of "discretize". There, I've invented a new word for you.

  5. Also, but not only due to the fact that the sphincter will have evolved into an organ capable of perceiving humour, why not.

  6. Ever heard of Eccentrica Gallumbits?