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Electronic and Print Media: was Re: Bridges to the past; links to the future

Dear Book Arts Folk,

Yipes! You had to get me started on this subject! I won't give you my whole
thesis here, but one observation if you please...

The efficiency/permanency paradox: The more efficient and compact a medium,
the shorter its physical lifespan. We have 5000-yr-old clay tablet records,
heavy, bulky, but they are five THOUSAND years old. Script culture vellum
books are less bulky, and after 400 years seem to be in fine shape.
Paperbacks on wood pulp paper, self-destructing from their acid content --
now 60 years old. Microfiche -- 15 years. Video tape -- 10 years. Computer
media -- too soon to tell, really, but I would be surprised if an
individual disk lasts five.

The surprising thing is that we still seem to end up with pretty much the
same amount of preservation.

Bulkier, less efficient storage means initial numbers are smaller and only
the very important material is thus recorded, but more of it survives. The
Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne gospels... large one-off volumes that took
years to produce, but which survive still due to longer-lasting materials
and the veneration it receives as a rarity.

More efficient storage survives its short lifespan by sheer weight of
numbers. The contents of this list are found in a central archive, possibly
some mirror sites (?), also in whole or in part on who knows how many
computers, and in similar individualized segments in printed form. Some of
us will bother to update from electronic platform to platform, others of us
will keep print copies (for our grandchildren, someone suggested?), some
might even bind the printouts into a mixed-media art book or something. At
the same time, "Me too" and "Hi Bob" messages have been collectively
deleted, and with feeling, never to be seen again.

Years from now, when all of us are famous and our joint inspiration is
traced back to our participation in this list, some grad student or prof
will make a career out of searching out these odd bits of electronic and
print records, will resurrect old computer platforms, dig through boxes of
scraps and papers, find bits used to cover a personal diary, delight at
finding an undeleted scrap in some data warehouse, then re-publish his or
her findings in the latest, best medium. And whatever we and our future
colleague collectively think/thought most important will survive, just as
it has from 5000 years before us.

In the meantime, I buy random books from the five cent bin, horde
newspapers, magazines, and direct mail ad pieces, keep "me too" messages
just in case I need an e-mail address, print nothing, back up everything,
and panic everytime entropy gets its way. And I'm having a ball.

I love this list.


Winston Pei

Black Riders Design

  or find us on the worldwide web at http://www.blackriders.com/

 "I like to look at it, merely sit and look at it,take it all in without
moving an eye. It gives me more than rhymed poetry. It rhymes in my eyes.
   Here are Black Riders for me at last galloping across a blank page."

                          - Robert Carlton Brown
                             on his optical poem "Eyes on the Half-Shell"

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