The Computer as Time Machine
Over thousands of years, humans have carved into stone, painted on canvas, printed words in books, and captured images on film in order to pass information down the chain of generations. With digital data storage, we have reached the point where what is precious to individuals, families, and institutions only holds up for a fraction of a generation without constant care and expensive maintenance. For the ease of digital storage comes the cost of rapid obsolescence and “bit rot,” an ironic turn for a media format that seemed to promise longevity, if not permanence.
Digital archives depend on complex technological environments, electricity, chips, air conditioning, maintenance at quite short intervals, and are doomed by changing hardware, operating systems, applications, and data formats. Even if we have electricity and computers 100 years from now, what we have stored and hoped to pass along will be lost and forgotten without continuous, meticulous investment of time and money.
At EMPAC, we have created hundreds of events, commissions, and new works that are part of the larger cultural record. We have over 400 videos documenting these “time-based” productions accessible via the EMPAC Archive Video Chair in the lobby as well as two printed books that catalog this history. But if EMPAC were closed tomorrow, this knowledge would fade along with the funds and the interest needed to preserve it. As a result, EMPAC has researched a digital “time capsule” an individual or institution can create to make images, texts, sounds, and documents accessible for the next 100 years. This object would need attention every 10 years or so, would not need air conditioning, and would survive under the same conditions humans live in, at the cost of around $2,000.
This talk will describe our research as well as the philosophy and politics of digital memory behind the system we have developed.