The Dark Ages

The actual dark ages refers to a period in european history between the 5th-10th century. It is called this for couple of reasons, but it boils down to the Romans' downfall, a cultural vacuum, and several 100 years of very little documentation. In short there is very little written records (whereas the Romans were meticulous about this before), and it did not change until the 14th century with the Italian renaissance. As such, it is an intellectual void, a dark age, where we know very little of what happened! Now, why am I telling you this? Well, there is a theory that we are currently in a potential dark age, a digital dark age! But in a society where everything is being documented by everyone, all the time, how could this be a potential dark age?

The digital Dark Age

It was hard for me to truly realise this threat until a recent occurrence that made me give this theory some serious thought, and question my entire photo archive system... 

My wife and I were gifted a DVD, not so odd really. However, when we decided to watch said gift, we realised we had a major problem...  we did not have a DVD player, anywhere! All our laptops lacked them and we had long since abandoned our tv associated DVD player in preference to online based viewing. So how could we watch the DVD? This is an example of the digital Dark Age, albeit a mild one. Luckily DVD players are still common place, so we could actually go out and get one, which we did. However, this kind of problem will be harder to overcome if they should arise in a not so far future when DVD players a no longer in use. How many of you could watch an old VHS home video right now? Just imagine how much more difficult it will be in 10, 20 100 years from now!

Corrupted JPEG file

Corrupted JPEG file

Data format and storage system technologies are continually advancing, and this rapid rate of innovation is accompanied by an equally rapid rate of technology going obsolete. This, in a nutshell, is the problem. We are not storing our data in a manner that has independent longevity. We always need a player, a screen, some kind of decryption to view our files. Sure, we can open image files right now, but will out ancestors in 100's of years be able to? Will they survi ve that long? How much information from this era will be lost forever if we can't access them in the future? 

This is not a new concern, with the phrase first being mentioned by Terry Kuny in 1997 in a report presented at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA; You can find his report here), but the risk is becoming more pressing and could be a really ironic problem; the age of information... loss!

Fear not, There is a simple solution - printing!

It is odd to think that in a digital age, the need for 'hard copies' might be greater than ever before. A printed image doesn't need a computer or any form of decryption to be viewed. A physical rendition of anything will be more likely to survive the test of time over digital storage. It may fade, rip, tare, but anyone, at anytime in the future can view it (as long as they have eyes to see). The same can not be said for digital. Take cave painting for example...  1000's of years on, and people still queue up to see them! :)

I would recommend that everyone, periodically prints their images. Firstly, printed photos look awesome...  whether on canvas, paper, aluminium or even leather. Photo-books are particularly good to document an event, time in your life, that you want to live on, as this is something that will not be lost to the moving tides of technology. Irrespective of the possible digital dark age we might be in,  printing your work is a great idea. It gives you a 'hard copy' backup, it is easy to do, easy to share with other people, serves as a great reminder of times-gone-by, looks great (hopefully), your books will make a great coffee table additions, and has served me well as a gift for others. So either way, I really can't see a reason not to err on the side of caution and print! :)

However, if you are a videographer...  erm...  lets just hope youtube lives on? :/

UPDATE 23/06/2015 : I have since been contacted by Dr Andrew Broertjes, a historian from the University of Western Australia, who went to the trouble of clarifying the "dark ages" for me. So for the sake of historical accuracy, this is what he had to say...

"The Dark Ages is a term that used to be used by historians under the mistaken belief that the period between the "fall" of the Roman empire in the fifth century and the Italian renaissance of the fifteenth century contained nothing of cultural value. While we know that is simply not true (who among us would be brave to cast the Carolingian renaissance and the writings of Bede to the dustbin of history?) the term itself endures, denoting a time of loss, of primitive barbarism replacing a once golden age."



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