two potsherds join…. from Tel Anafa
The other day I was cleaning out a storeroom and I came across videotapes of my wedding (or should I call it my ex-wedding) in 1993.
They were all shot in Hi8, and it occurred to me that I probably don’t have any Hi8 equipment to play them back (which believe me, is no great loss). I also have tapes in U-matic, and I know for a fact I don’t have a U-matic deck. You can probably rent one somewhere, but in a few years, they will join 2-inch decks and floppy discs and all the other recording devices we have created and become unreadable.
And now, pretty much everything we write and record – from emails to video to this blog is recorded… where, exactly?
When I was in my 20s I spent my summers working as a photograper on archaeological excavations in the Middle East. It was one of the best jobs that I ever had. I dug at Tel Anafa in Israel and the Temple of Ap0llo Hylates at Kurion in Cyprus. When we excavated, we found the remnants of the people who once lived there. They left an impressive record – and it survived for more than 2,000 years because it was made out stone and ceramics. By sifting through their remains, you can build a pretty clear record of who they were, what they did and sometimes even salvage their writing.
From papyrus in ancient Eqypt to engraved stone in ancient Greece to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the written word survives for us to read intact.
But what happens when the entire history of a culture – all of its ‘written word’ is either ‘written’ on a format that no one can any longer access – or it is ‘written’ in a place that no longer exists?
Letters carved in stone last for several thousand years – at least; as do markings impressed in clay. We can still read the cuneiform writings of the ancient Assyrians 3000 years later. U-matic video tape seems to start degrading after 20 years. Go pull one from the shelf and play it back – if you can still find a deck. The whole Carter Administration is about to disappear before our eyes.
In a thousand years or two thousand years (if there are still human beings on the planet), people may look back at this moment in time as the point at which, suddenly, history seems to have come to a halt.
What can we do to insure a record of our presence here for future generations?
I am not sure. But as soon as I finish this, I am going to go over to Fifth Avenue and engrave my blog in the marble finish on Trump Tower.