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Vail: Technology can be overused; don’t live life online or keep stuff there

By Joshua Vail
On October 12, 2010

Here I am, sitting in front of two computers.

On one, I have pages I'm laying out. You're reading one of them right now, unless you're reading this online in which case you're not reading one of them.

On the other, I'm writing this. One of them is a school computer, the other is my laptop.

They're running different operating systems and different software, and I'm able to switch between them seamlessly.

I'm a geek. I love technology. When the new testing version of my favorite software programs come out, I jump on it. Why wait for the makers to release it before I get to see all the shiny new features?

But I also have a concern when everyone is rushing to the next big thing in technology. Example: VHS tapes. They gave way to DVDs, which are going out in favor of Blu-ray.

This jump in quality corresponds with a loss of information. I'm not talking about individual pieces of data, but works that aren't considered worthy to make the jump. I'm talking about movies that simply disappear from the public consciousness, either into bargain bins or collections that never see the light of day.

The same thing happens to everything even without the advance of technology. The greatest piece of music ever written? Most likely gone, lost forever to history. The greatest piece of literature? It is Equally likely that we have no record of it.

While most of the great works have hopefully survived, we can be sure that much of what has been written, sung or spoken, that had value, has been lost to history.

So what happens when we throw in the fact that ever-growing amounts of art, literature and music are stored in fragile digital forms? I don't mean fragile as in breakable, though I could easily write a novel, burn it to a CD then snap the CD in half, effectively destroying that work forever.

When I say fragile, I mean in three or four years that CD may be obsolete. In ten years the file format I saved the novel in won't be readable on a modern computer. In 30 years it will cost some absurd amount of dollars to read the disc, and in 50 years the disc will start to deteriorate and nothing will read it.

If I have that novel printed on the right paper with the right ink, it could last for hundreds of years.

My final and most important example is Facebook. I could be wrong, but I imagine there's a fair possibility that Facebook will NOT become the next Google. Something else will take its place, the same way that Facebook eclipsed MySpace in popularity.

So what happens when your life is on Facebook and everyone leaves? What happens when there are pictures on there, thousands of conversations, hundreds of connections...and they all become obsolete?

This is not to say anything against social media or technology. I love technology. I just worry when a place that could potentially cease to be is the place we live our lives, just like I worry that a medium that could cease to be is the place we store our art.

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