History Goes Paperless; History Goes Away
Vint Cerf is way cool. He invented the internet. He has a great beard. He is a snazzy dresser, always seen wearing a well-styled suit, usually with a complementary tie and pocket square. It has been jokingly, but accurately observed, that he is the only Google employee to wear a tie.
His current focus is on the interplanetary internet. Yes, the man who invented TCP/IP (which now basically connects the entire world) is working on overcoming limitations of the speed of light so he can connect the entire universe. At age 76, Vint Cerf is a lot cooler than you and me, and he is as digital as they come.
Cerf is also concerned. In 2015, at an American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, he first brought up the coming “digital dark age.”
“I worry a great deal about that,” Cerf told the BBC. “Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed. And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.”
Perhaps, he muses, we should preserve every piece of software and hardware ever made so that it will always be available to read archaic formats. Otherwise, the sum total of our knowledge from 1995 on may be lost to history.
It’s an interesting idea, but I have a better one. Print it. Apparently, Vint Cerf is not the only one worried about digital obsolescence, and I’m not the only one who thinks print is the answer.
I really did receive this email message reproduced below from my bank. The obnoxious capitalization is theirs, but the boldface is mine. The names have been changed to protect the stupid.
To: Steve Johnson
From Web Banking Manager
Subject : IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL ONLINE BANKING AND BILL PAY SERVICE
Local Bank of Anytown has now formally joined Enormous Bank & Trust and the Enormous family of community banks. As we work to make this a smooth transition, we want to let you know about some important upcoming changes to your current Online Banking and Bill Pay system.
HOW WILL YOUR ONLINE BANKING SERVICES BE AFFECTED? Your current payees and history will not transfer to the new system. On Oct. 1 at 4 p.m., access to Internal Transfers and the Bill Pay system will cease. Any single or re-occurring payments with a send date of Oct. 3 or after will NOT BE MADE.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NEXT? Prior to Oct. 1, we recommend that you print out your payee and scheduled payment information as well as bill payment history. As of Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. you’ll no longer have access to your previous history, including statements and payees.
Yes, you read that correctly. The years of banking history stored digitally, that we, your bank, encouraged you to use when we told you to “go green” and eliminate paper statements, that history is going to be deleted. By us, your bank. Gone forever. In a few days. What to do?
Let me translate the above memo for you.
We recommend you print everything out. On paper. The only safe way to keep records. Oh, the irony.
This wasn’t a problem for me, since I insist on receiving paper bank statements in the mail each month for all of my accounts. By law, it is my right to do so, but I pity the poor young person who does all of his or her banking on a cellphone.
This is a real-world problem. Vint Cerf’s glorious idea of preserving every computing device and language for posterity wouldn’t help in this case, because the bank is deleting the information. Think about it. It is your information, but they are deleting it.
Whether it is your financial records, your books on a Kindle, your family photographs or works of art stored in the cloud, your old emails, or even the phone numbers in your cell phone, they can all be deleted, maliciously or accidentally — gone in an instant.
Print it. Before it is too late.
Steve Johnson, president and CEO of Copresco in Carol Stream, Ill., is an executive with 40 years of experience in the graphic arts. He founded Copresco, a pioneer in digital printing technology and on-demand printing, in 1987. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.copresco.com