Of back-ups & throwbacks

The hard way, because it is the only way left, we (the “we are the world” we) may gradually learn that abject dependency upon computer networks was a dumb idea. We’re not there yet, but getting closer, as a gentle reader near London reports, who wants to be in Cairo, notwithstanding the breakdown of the British Airways booking system, which has grounded their aeroplanes around the planet. An assiduous reader of news (which I try not to be) will have noticed the “ransonware” cyber attack which scrambled the British healthcare system a fortnight ago, together with various other bureaucracies in countries here and there. We are assured that bigger and better is coming, thanks to the improving skills and technology of the bad guys, many of whom are state-sponsored. And ditto the good guys, if you can tell them apart.

No system crashes forever; there will always be a way to get it up again, along with another way to take it down. This is an assertion of common sense, in the face of hopeful millenarians. My son the electronic engineer tells me that Luddites are needed, to spot the flaws: for only those who truly hate computers, but are condemned to deal with them anyway, will see that to which electronic engineers are characteristically blind. Moreover, the computer-illiterate are invaluable to the salesmen, for the “market” will always consist of people who are not adept with computers, whether they like them or not.

Hard copy has this virtue: that it can, depending on the medium, remain legible for hundreds or thousands of years. From my own experience, I would estimate the permanence of electronic records at less than a decade. This has immense cultural implications, about which the post-modern are incurious: for whatever is not considered sufficiently useful to be copied and reposted passes into the universe of lost socks.

An intelligent teenager of my acquaintance tells me he now buys old-fashioned physical books because, “you can keep them.” Too, the memory of a printed page is always greater than retention from electronic scrolls, which he has noticed is approximately zero. And this, regardless of attention levels, which of course plunge in a medium riddled with “links,” which scatter the attention wonderfully.

McLuhan was writing about this, half a century ago: about how the entire mindset of a culture can be twisted by the media in which it communicates. Through telephones and radio and television ours was already becoming “virtual,” and wisdom was being replaced with “information.” Since, we have been experimenting in the genre of tragic farce, for the condition of society becomes so artificial that it is possible to imagine e.g. that the baby in the mother’s womb is “fetal matter,” or that there are more than two sexes.

You see, we do not need throwbacks and back-up systems only to guarantee that flight into Egypt. They are also necessary to the ecology of the human mind. In addition to connexions with things that don’t exist, we should retain a few links with reality.