Reading me in 200 years

In Brandon’s piece on Death & Blogging, he touches on a subject which I’ve been thinking about for a while, but have not yet put a plan in place.

Prompted by the sad passing of his blogger friend, he is pondering how to keep his own writing alive when he cannot. It’s a tough problem to solve, and one solution he muses is creating e-books of his work.

My approach to this problem is slightly different. I’m less concerned with keeping a particular website going for as long as possible. It’s hard enough keeping up with my own tech stack – I very much doubt anyone in the future will be sufficiently motivated to maintain mine for very long.

Instead, I want to have my writing be available to read in 200 years time. I am sufficiently unknown and uninteresting, and that is sufficiently far ahead, if I achieve it, it’s highly possible that my writing would then be available for the remainder of humanity.

Although we are currently living through a cambrian explosion of published content, that will be inevitably be followed by colossal digital destruction, as we find ourselves unable to allocate sufficient resources to preserve that content by default.

So the digital fossil record will be important. The average mammal species lasts a million years, and we are only 200,000 years in. Provided we don’t extinct ourselves, future humans will view the web not as an ancient civilisation, but almost as another species entirely. As mysterious and wondrous as the dinosaurs are to us.

Back to my goal to leave my mark on this future. Here are my thoughts so far, none of which I’ve actioned.

  • Keep content as text. While I believe that HTML will still be remembered, it is likely to have the status of Latin in a couple of centuries. CSS and javascript will just be forgotten indigenous languages of long dead machinery. But text has been text throughout the ages. So converting all my content to plain text will be an import step.
  • Keep images small. Again, I don’t want to burden the unborn stewards of my content and cause them to jettison my work because it is too large to store on whatever hard disks become.
  • Open source everything. I don’t care what anyone does with my work (as long as any harm that may arise is not attributed back to me). Make it as easy as possible for others to incorporate into their own over the next 100 years.
  • Single package to manage. Everything in a zip, along with a note to the future requesting assistance in preserving this for 200 years. All content in a single thing that can just be stored until it needs to be opened. I’m using ‘zip’ as a catch all term for a digital envelope. It could refer to a zip file, a git repo, a database file, an e-book. I want the friction to be as low as possible for future librarians.
  • Store the package in as many places as possible for free. The British library is the obvious place for book formats. Large scale digital hubs like github, google drive, neocities and others are also relevant. Again, I’m not expecting these digital hubs to survive their current form, but they are big enough that managed migration decisions will be made.
  • Leave an amount of money in a will to preserve paid digital storage of the content package for as long as possible.

I’m comfortable in the knowledge that the main readers of my work in the future are likely to be robots. In fact, that’s the only way it’s going to be discovered at all. No-one is going to be doing the digital equivalent of rifling through old micro-fiche. I find it quite exciting that a post of mine might pop up in a holographic display to a seven year old in 2350, in response to their expression of curiosity about the past.

I’m interested in exploring these thoughts with others who also have blogs. There are undoubtedly a lot of smart people working on solutions to this problem, and I’d like to be made aware of them.

Write a post on your site with your thoughts. If you link back to this post via webmention, I’ll pick it up. Or alternatively drop me an email with the link on [email protected] and I’ll add you to my RSS reader.

Read more on this topic . . .