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Joseph Kaminski

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October 20, 2019

Printing the Internet: Preserving our Digital History

We oftentimes hear of historians archiving old documents onto a digital server, bloggers recording their thoughts on white screens, and news articles being published via social media. We use digital ‘encyclopedias’ like Wikipedia rather than opening actual books. Credible newspaper after newspaper have ditched the old fashioned art of publishing to save costs and increase viewers. In a sense, we’ve uploaded our entire world to a digital cloud – one that could crash in a heartbeat.

We’ve become numb to the concept of what the internet should actually mean for us. In this dark age of information, one dominated by a push for censorship and a misuse of infinite information, we’ve ignored the world around us change. I’ve talked about merging technology in the classroom, the evolution of traditional retail thanks to online stores, and the concept of censorship online. We’ve seen books be tossed in favor of e-book machines, customer service be replaced by autonomic machines, and television slowly fade to the hands of streaming programs (like Hulu, which follows me on Twitter for some reason) online. But now, I think it’s important to keep the Internet’s “history” for generations to come.

Some official institutions are already attempting some rather primitive methods in order to preserve the Internet’s position in the past. The White House has frozen the Obama administration’s website in time, locking it from editing and keeping it up only as a historical confirmation of the events that the administration went through. As the website alerts readers at the top of every page, “This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.” This is an excellent idea, but it won’t mean much if the Internet were to suddenly vanish.

There are two major reasons to why the Internet should be preserved for generations to come. For one, webpages are not immortal. As we’ve witnessed, website editors can easily change content or choose to delete websites all together. Yes, there are web archives that screenshot websites of importance on a regular basis, but they can’t record every second of the internet through spiders and screenshots. The main reason why the Internet should be preserved is that the Internet might just not last forever. It may seem like some wacky conspiracy theory, but if the internet managed to crash and be unable to come back – think of everything that would crash with it.

By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic reached 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco. With these calculations global Internet data is expected to increase to 2 zettabytes per year. What’s a zettabyte? Well, a zettabyte is 200 terabytes. What’s a terabyte? One million million bytes – or, for you nerds, 240 bytes. That’s a lot of information that happens to be floating around online – per year.

In 2012, David Eagleman, an American writer and neuroscientist, reported that a backup security plan for the vast amount of human knowledge residing online is necessary. In 2014, German company PediaPress announced their campaign to raise money to print all 4.5 million articles (as of early 2014) on Wikipedia. They estimated the project would take up 80 meters of shelf space, being composed of “one thousand volumes, 1,200 pages each — more than one million pages in all”.

We’ve done so well with uploading our lives and histories online that it’s just about time we start being concerned with preserving the internet as a whole; so that future generations will have “access” to all the information left on the internet, even if the internet ceases to exist.

Internet data.


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