The Technium

1,000 Years of Forgetting


One thousand years from now, much of what we know will be forgotten. That’s been true in the past. We have only a fragmentary cultural memory of what happened 1,000 years ago. And what we think we know about 1000 may in fact be quite garbled. In a very witty demo of this, this youtube clip, the Beatles 3000, imagines how corrupted our current ideas of “what everone knows” will most likely be in 10 centuries. Ever heard of the Beatles?  (Thanks, Mark)

  • A. Karttunen

    @Sean: Leave no trace?

    Look at here:
    (although in reality, I think our artifacts will
    produce fossils in negative, that is, the surrounding “molds”).

    But yes, there will be a lots of garbage left. Not so many aesthetically or spiritually awesome physical objects like pyramids or cathedrals.

  • Bryan Jacobson

    Interesting thoughts. So much of our humankind’s early history has been lost and forgotten. We don’t know who built Stonehenge or why they did it. Even with technology, I believe much of what we know today will be lost a thousand years from now. Perhaps not lost in the sense of gone (deleted, an obsolete format nobody knows how to read) but in the sense of un-findable. Every year the inflow of new data accelerates. The total pile of data grows exponentially. We can find things we care about – but we lose track of the things we don’t. For example, a thousand years from now – will someone be able to find a list of the first 50 presidents of the United States? Probably. Unless, nobody has even cared about the United States for several centuries. Maybe countries don’t even exist anymore.

  • David Archer

    To Jason S.: your views are very simplistic. Kind of like when, actually not so long ago, people believed that electricity and DDT will solve all problems of humanity.

  • Jason Schultz

    Agree with the notion of thinking in new contexts like this, however completely disagree with this representation.

    Technology makes errors like this less likely and continues to increase in accuracy. Most of this media has been made digital and will be archived for future minds to access it.

    In ancient times the accuracy of a story told over human generations would be distorted not only because of the inefficient vessels carrying this information (humans), but also from war, plagues, and other changes in the condition. Today we can relatively easily access archived information over many mediums (copy, audio, video, images, data, etc) which make for far less errors.

    This video is a good opposite example of what you spoke about in Amsterdam. Technologies allow us to live longer to accumulate and pass on more information. With the additional note that technologies preserve information itself.

  • nozeppo

    Garbage! While details and opinions may change some of history, this is a complete exaggeration of how muddled our recording of history might get. An example of a fairly recent accurate (by my estimation) historic record that we have are the historic records regarding Galileo or Leonardo da Vinci, their lives and contribution to the arts and sciences. On the other extreme (but still accurately recorded with some literary license) might be the historic records of Jesus Christ and his birth, death, possible divinity, and/or contributions to the people of his time.

    There may be much “spin” put on history but but to leave Ringo out of the Beatles would be a sin.

  • Eric

    Technology isn’t keeping the past; it’s aggressively destroying it. Try reading a 30-year-old tape sometime. First, of course, you need to _find_ a tape drive, and then figure out some way to connect it to a modern computer. Then you need to resurrect the software that wrote the tape, and find some sort of emulator that can run the software.

    Another example: NASA has lost over half of the Apollo data collected, including the high-res SSTV scans of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

  • Sean Taylor

    Look around and ask yourself what will remain of our civilization in a thousand years or more. The answer, you’ll soon realize, is essentially nothing. We moderns imagine ourselves to be the peak of human civilization, yet compared to ancients such as the Egyptians we are a flash in the pan, an utterly disposable culture. Now ask yourself which civilization will be judged the greater by people 5000 years from now, when the pyramids are still filling people with wonder while every computer and automobile from this era has long since crumbled to dust and left no trace.

  • Berend Schotanus

    It remains to be seen how good our (digital) archives will prove to be but even if the archives are accurate people we rewrite history over and over again. They will place the facts in their own context and use it for their own purposes.

    It makes me kind of dizzy to think about how future generations will deform our current existence. I feel more comfortable with the notion that it is difficult to see historical events in its contemporary context, then at least at can put some effort in trying to adjust my own perspective.

  • Alex Tolley

    I think that technology is already obviously improving our perceptions of the past. Archived film footage of events preserves a wealth of data about the past that was never captured in written documents. As an example, just look at movies of the first half of the C20th and note the details of daily life depicted even in these fictional stories. You don’t get that detail in novels of the same period.

    While I sometimes get concerned about data formats and preservation, it seems to me that we will solve this problem, indeed are slowly solving this problem.

    I blows my mind that the BBC used to reuse videotape in the 1960′s, losing programming to posterity. The ubiquitousness of cheap technology today ensures that this will not likely happen again.