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Friday, December 12, 2003

Memory Overload - or Increasing Capacity?

I think this is about to become 'Topic du Mois':

Information boom causes memory overload

One of the greatest challenges facing delegates attending the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva - which closes on Friday - is how to preserve the immense "digital heritage". The sheer speed of technological change and the daily flood of data make it virtually impossible to keep track of all this material.Millions of words and images circle the globe every second, using a web of subterranean cables, optical fibres, antennae and satellites.

It’s not only users who are being put to the test with this mass of information – experts are also beginning to despair. Archives, libraries, museums and all the other institutions with the task of preserving this heritage complain that they are no longer able to keep pace.“We’re legally bound to keep a record of everything [relating to Switzerland] that’s printed on paper, every web page, every radio and television broadcast. It is impossible,” says Jean-Frédéric Jauslin, director of the Swiss National Library. “Not even the world’s major libraries, in France, Britain or the United States, are up to the task.”

Mission impossible

Not only is it no longer possible to safeguard all the information; it is becoming impossible even to quantify the mass of data produced each day on our planet. “Since 1996, an American company, Internet Archive, has been attempting to store all the pages published on the web,” Jauslin explains. “In seven years, it has accumulated 300 terabytes of information – a mind-boggling figure, which exceeds all the pages of the books produced in the history of mankind.”

Unesco, the United Nation’s cultural and education agency, has recently sounded alarm over the fact that a lot of information is also being lost every instant. It has set the preservation of our digital heritage as one of its priorities. “People are not very concerned about preserving things,” laments Fontana. “All they want is rapid access to information that will provide short-term benefits. Knowledge has become part of our throw-away society.”

In fact, while there may be no 'solution' in the classical sense to this problem, and while it isn't exactly easy to see where to go, I think there are some pointers. We in the 'livings' initiative are certainly getting into this in a big way. Structuring and facilitating a wide variety of information is both the potential of and challenge to blogging. Reading between the lines on the warehouses of brains piece the point should be more or less clear. We have, in fact, set up a global development team to try to work on the topic of weblogs and information aggregation. Anyone interested in participating should contact me.

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