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Choose your dolphin carefully

Have you ever considered how much information is floating around us? Writing is piling up on itself in ever-increasing mountains of words. In fact, big data analysts claim that ninety percent of the internet’s content was created entirely over the last two years. The mind boggles.

When I was at university, we had an internal mail server that most of us used to email other students. Back in the hazy days of idealism, I wrote wholehearted and electric emails about my experiences, which I sent to friends. When we left university, I was conscious of leaving behind a lifetime of stories in my email account, which was undoubtedly wiped as soon as we left. I actually quite liked the feeling of wiping the slate clean and starting again, of deleting any past self that was still rampaging around somewhere in all that writing. One friend in particular used a floppy disc to save all his ‘important’ emails. I wonder though if he subsequently took all the information from the floppy disc and saved it in a new way before it too became obsolete. I doubt it. Ultimately, I’m sure all those words were cast off into oblivion.

This is a trend that I suppose has always existed -new technology renders old technology obsolete and information is lost on the way. Now, though, this trend is playing itself out at dizzying speeds. Is there a way of immortalising information so that it doesn’t get lost on the trail of technology?

This is a concern of Vint Cerf, aka the ‘Father of the Internet’, one of the internet’s key inventors. He recently voiced his concern that data is prone to getting easily wiped and that technological obsolescence could culminate in a technological dark age; he suggests that when new forms of technology are invented all the past technology will be lost. And with it all those millions of words, our entire history.

I find myself asking whether some systemic loss is necessary to ensure a healthy ecosystem, like the forest fire that burns all the accumulated surface material to prevent more serious fires from starting. Would a paradigmatic shift in technology cause all the superfluous information to be destroyed, leaving only the essential information we have taken care to preserve?

I increasingly feel lost in the face of so much information, books, music, films and products in general. And I suppose what I am trying to say is that, while we as individuals can’t live our lives in fear of a digital dark age, we can be aware of the vast ocean in which we’re moving. We can also choose exactly what information we hang onto. We can decide to latch onto particular trails of thought, like dolphins guiding us through the ocean. We can consciously choose how we carve sense out of it all. We can empower ourselves through selecting knowledge carefully.

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