Institute of Cultural Studies
Adam Mickiewicz University,
The main purpose of the dissertation is to present the outlook assuming that digital civilization brings historically unprecedental threats to the present (traditional) analog civilization. Using an example of widely understood definition of culture I am going to prove that computing revolution – the fundament of digital civilization – has already started to destroy its own children. We also cannot be sure about the future existence of analogue artifacts. Anyway, after taking account of some economical factors it seems that there is no real reason to guarantee an equal access (or even any access) to the artifacts of analogue civilization for all the members of the digital civilization.
The first part of the present work is going to present the problem of discontinuity existing in the digital civilization caused by its own development. Main thesis of this part are:
- The quick development of digital technologies is creating products which are not compatible to its predecessors.
- The living (functioning) period of digital product is very short.
- This leads to the phenomenon of culture discontinuity – the great part of civilization artifacts disappears.
In the second part of the dissertation I am going to prove that the economical factor is able to decide about the separation of all the generations from the analog civilizations artifacts. The thesis of this part are:
- The production of electronic equipment (including data carrier) used by analog culture – at the mass dimension – will be given up.
- In the mass-media only these products of the past civilization whose conversion is recognized as cost-effective, will be available.
- This leads to the phenomenon of cultural discontinuity in another dimension.
The digital civilization with geometrically increasing impetus brings down the traditional analog civilization. All products of the new technology – first of all the new media – are based on the digital technology. The problem seems to be saving (conversing) the products of analog civilizations in the new (finite) world. Another tendency caused by the quick development of digital technologies seems to be more dangerous – ignoring the products (software) created by new equipment (hardware) by people in the older periods of the evolution of this technology.
THE VANISHING BITS
The main reason of this situation should be associated with the impermanence of magnetic carrier, permanent change of its types and data formats. Who would be able to read now – after hardly 20 years – the data from 8″ diskette or better – from magnetic tape? Even if the magnetic area could be read after all those years and we would delve from the archives the hardware fitting to it – there still remains the problem of interpretation the data format saved at the carrier, different for subsequent types of computers and their operation systems.
Let’s say that we have already read the proper sequence of zeros and ones – now we posses the file identical to the original, saved it in the new system, at the contemporary carrier. Unfortunately, it still remains an assembly of useless zeros and ones – following versions of programs and operation systems are not compatible with the data saved by the older programs (CorelDraw 9.0 – 1999 does not read the data saved by CorelDraw 2.0 – 1990!). Therefore the “children” do not want to accept the creatures of their own “parents”, the millions of bytes disappear unrecoverable with no trace.
THE LOST CODE
There would be nothing terrible in the lost of those data – a large number of important texts and data has been already converted without losing its quality – despite the fact, that among the trillions lost bits there are millions inconversionable programs, the code of which may be run only at the specific type of computer with specific type of operating system. So now, at the very beginning of the digital era, a computer programmer cannot watch the effect of his work done just few years before.
Certainly, one may say, my predictions may be exaggerated. It is still possible to find old, dusted ZX-Spectrum and with a bit of luck load, and run River Raid. But we have to notice the fact, that all phenomena of discontinuity described by me have taken the place for less than last 20 years. The period, due to geometrical acceleration of the development of digital technologies, will get shorter and shorter, leaving millions of human artifacts in non-existence. However, let’s imagine that the only existing works of art are those of the XX century – though the most modern, they include in themselves thousands years of the painting tradition. Still, what would be the world like without the possibility of knowing their predecessors – and this is namely what the digital civilization offers. Such a process of eliminating history, incompatible with human nature does not bode well for the coming millenium.