Your emails 5000 years later


Present day Iraq is littered with 5000 year old memos, invoices, account ledgers, personal letters, business correspondence, payrolls, legal documents and the bureaucratic “paperwork” kings. All of which were originally written on slabs of wet clay commonly referred to as Cuneiform (indopedia.org has a brief overview for the impatient). When dry, these “documents” become rock hard and survive the centuries. Along with the fingerprints of their authors.

They provide an insightful view of daily life in ancient times. Fundamentally nothing much has changed. People still send bills, write checks, and keep accounts. Relatives write letters to youngsters telling them to study and become accountants, while kids ask their parents for more money to keep up with the day’s fashions. Frightening how superficially we mutate.

I doubt our digital documents will last that long. Even if there is anyone interested to read them, it is unlikely that our blogs, emails, and other digital debris will exist in a readable form. Open file formats offer a flicker of hope but not much. Digital documents require a digital environment just to be read. Babylon cuneiform tablets only need sunlight. Perhaps our writing will as ephemeral as the vanished oral cultures of extinct tribes.

Yes, I am being a bit cynical after spending too much time wrestling with ancient 20th century file formats. Thankfully the last two centuries have been quite will documented than most. There is a greater chance that the words of insignificants like us will be read. Not that it matters in the wider scheme of things. Our peers amongst the ancients we not concerned with a far away future. They just wanted the season’s sheep counted, get a spot on the next caravan and ultimately get paid. How pragmatically human.

The closest I can get to being similarly pragmatic with this post is to ask: have you backed up your blog lately? Ever thought of printing the whole thing on archival paper? ;)