Tag Archives: Google

How Technology Preserves History — A Guest Post

Technology has always preserved history, from pen and paper to the printing press. However as we’ve entered into the digital age, we have seen digital storage become the preferred way of maintaining our history. Today, maps, music, movies and books are all available digitally. It isn’t just new media that’s digital, either. For instance, according to an article in PC World, Google is attempting to scan and archive all of the world’s books within the next decade. Google is hoping to make them available as part of a massive library. In all, the company estimates that it will digitize roughly 130 million books in the near future.

Digital technology uses computer data as preservation meaning it lasts indefinitely and it is infinitely easier to duplicate than printing books. Printing a new copy of a book to preserve its place in history is a time consuming task, not to mention difficult. It takes specialized equipment, ink, paper and other materials. To top it off, such a lengthy process must be repeated for every new copy of that book. On the other hand, making a copy of an eBook takes seconds. A few clicks of a mouse, and thousands of copies can be created almost instantly. This is why eBooks are becoming so popular today. From students taking online classes to bookworms who spend most of their time with their nose in a book, eReaders make reading on the go a breeze. Apart from easier access, data storage is also cheap and easy to obtain. In fact, the process is similar to other forms of digitally recording history. A video of a speech by President Obama, for example, can be replicated as frequently as necessary with little limitation as opposed to a video reel of President Kennedy that can be expensive and fragile to duplicate.

In addition to preserving history, technology is also preserving the present. With news being published to the web, it is stored for an indefinite amount of time. Similarly, YouTube videos will stay around for as long as the site is alive. There are even attempts in place to archive the Internet now, such as with the Wayback Machine. What the WayBack Machine does is span the web and create images of as many sites as possible. The WayBack Machine then makes these sites available as a sort of Internet museum where visitors can see what web sites looked like on a certain date, even if they are defunct. Thus, much of the web will still be accessible to curious users even when these old sites have become obsolete. This is proof that digital technology is storing and preserving our history in an exponentially more efficient manner than old technology such as books and newspapers.

Technology also preserves our history by making it easier to sort through and organize. In a library, it takes time to locate specific books and then it takes even more time to search for information in a printed book. Yet when using new technology to store information, items can be found in a matter of seconds. A lot of our history has certainly been lost over the years simply because there isn’t enough time to search physical records. For instance, little details have often  been brushed aside. However technology allows us to preserve even the tiniest details, which will guarantee that even the most esoteric bits of information are accessible.

Despite the advantages of technology, it does have its pitfalls. In the case of preserving our personal history, a virus or hard drive failure can wipe out years of family photos. Even large companies aren’t immune to server failure. This is best evidenced by the Amazon.com’s server failure in August; a failure that took down large sites such as FourSquare and Reddit. Should we ever reach the point of all books being digital and old copies destroyed, a single natural disaster could wipe out Google’s servers and 130 million books.

These are unlikely scenarios though, and the benefits of technology preserving history are much greater than the disadvantages. With computers preserving our history, we’re entering into a golden age of record keeping where very little can slip through the cracks. Using computer storage to preserve our history means that everything in our history can effectively live forever.

About the author: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.  Lindsey writes for onlinecollegeclasses.com.

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Brush off the Dust Best of the Web, 8/1-8/5/2011

 1. Finding a fishy solution, Microbiologist devises a model for sustainable urban farming

JHU's David Love combines Aquaponics with Hydroponics for sustainable urban farming.

In a greenhouse on loan to the Baltimore Parks and Recreation Department, David Love of John Hopkins University is creating a new kind of sustainable urban farming practice, according to The JHU Gazette.  It combines aquaponics with hydroponics; basically, using fish waste water to feed the growing plants.  It could be a revolutionary step in sustainable urban farming.  Read the article by clicking here.

2. The Beer Archaeologist

Midas Touch beer

Indiana Jones meets that guy from Samuel Adams.  That’s what we’re getting from this Smithsonian.com read and its awesome!  It is a good long read, so feel free to print it out and read it with a cold one.  There are some great pictures, too, including the beer bottles of some new Doghfish Head brews–and a video with a tour inside their brewery–inspired by new findings.  Read it by clicking here!

3. The history and mystery of the high five

History of the HIgh Five

ESPN posted this from their magazine and it is at the crossroads sports geekdom and historical pop-culture-mythbuster geekdom.  It is a well-written, amusing piece by freelancer, Jon Mooallem.  Read it by clicking here.

4. Thomas Jefferson’s Iftar

Thomas Jefferson's Quran on display stand (Library of Congress)

Thomas Jefferson's Quran on display stand (Library of Congress)

This one is a little loaded, politically.  Jefferson received the first Muslim ambassador from Tunisia.  If you are at all an American history enthusiast–there are Tripoli pirates!–read this short piece, with its leading quote from Mr. Obama.  Read it by clicking here.

5.  Who Made Those NASA Logos?

This New York Times’s “6th Floor Blog” piece traces the origin of the NASA logos, dubbed “the Worm” and “the Meatball”.  Run in honor of the final landing of our beloved space shuttle, this piece is suitably quirky, while legitimately informative.

6. The Empathic Civilization

I would love to sit down and run a Q & A with the author of this really interesting and rather riveting piece, because a few of his points raise questions, but this is worth watching and thinking about.

7. A new leader in the D. B. Cooper mystery

Mystery man

Police sketches of D.B. Cooper, mystery suspect in a 1971 hijacking case

As a kid, reading a book about unsolved mysteries, this case fascinated me.  The part that still intrigues me, today, is that he asked for a relatively modest sum, even by contemporary standards, and was never caught.  So, assuming he survived, how wealthy was he as he lived out the latter years of his life?  After jumping out into low altitude from the plane he high-jacked the police found no trace until this new lead came up.  And, it may be a false one.  Still, I would love to know what became of D. B.  Read the L. A. Times article, with photo gallery, by clicking here.

8. Goya’s Wellington: The Duke Disappears

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington 1812-14 by Goya (National Gallery, London).

Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, stolen in the 1960s changed the laws in England

This is the story on the UK’s History Today website about the unsolvable theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which solved itself and revealed some interesting legal deficiencies in Merry Old England.  If you enjoy a good art-theft caper, you should enjoy this, but on top of that you find the ludicrous situation in England for which there was, at the time, no legal statute to prosecute the acts of thievery!  Read it by clicking, here.

9. The OEC: Facts about the language

A fascinating piece from the Oxford English Dictionary “Oxford Dictionaries” blog about the number of words in English!   This is a really interesting read about our language and its evolution.  Read it by clicking, here.

10. Air Force suspends ethics course that used Bible passages to train missile launch officers

The Washington Post reports that the Air Force is dropping a program taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after it was “outted” by Truthout.org.  The course hearkened back to Biblical and early Christian doctors in its development of ethics for firing missiles at targets.  Reportedly dubbed the “Jesus loves nukes speech” by trainees, the “outting” was orchestrated by officers, most of whom were Protestant or Roman Catholic. Read the report by clicking, here.

11. How Google Dominates Us

James Gleick, writing for The New York Review of Books, explores in this review how Google influences our lives and decisions.  This is a four-book review about Google’s dominion.  It is not a short read, but it is an important one for our increasingly electronic society.  Read it by clicking, here.

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“Let me look that up” the Smart Phone effect

I love my smart phone!  I am plugged in!  I get my e-mail, texts, photos, Google, Facebook… oh! and I can make phone calls.  It is at the ready whenever I need to see what’s going on or need a quick answer.

Pocket computing has certainly evolved from the days when it was limited to a pocket calculator.  We seek everything from movie schedules to book series, from ancient authors to constitutional law, from phrase translations to animal species, etc., etc.  For quick encyclopedic or dictionary-like information it is a wonderful thing–just think how many spousal arguments have been headed off with, “I don’t think that’s quite right, honey.  Why don’t we Google it?”

On the other hand, sometimes accuracy requires comparing information from multiple sources.  Sometimes, encouraged by the convenience and speed of smart-phone– and Google-searches, we neglect the process of finding good information for more complex questions that cannot, in fact, be simply “looked up“.  Now, I don’t mean a questions like life, the universe and everything (the answer is clearly 42).  But, I do think we have a tendency to assume that facts are clear when in most fields facts are pretty rare outside of high-school math or spelling (and, even then!).

You may ask a question which seems to have a clear factual answer waiting at the other end, but so often there is not.  For example: When was the Declaration of Independence written?  You expect to look up the answer and find a date, but it is seldom that simple, as with the case of the Declaration: do you mean when it was completed or when it was started?  Which version of the Declaration are you inquiring after–one of the drafts Jefferson wrote or the final draft revised by Congress?  Let’s say you ask your original question–maybe you put it to one of those deceptively helpful websites, such as Answers.com–if someone responds with a specific date he or she could be [correctly or erroneously] answering any of the listed qualifying questions!  He or she may not even bother to tell you which answer you got!  (If you really want to challenge this idea, then Google what Planned Parenthood does with tax-payer’s dollars–if you pick five different sources you will probably get nearly that many answers!)

I’m not saying that I do not “look things up“–I do it all the time!–I just think we as a society are being conditioned by the ease of smart phones, tablets and the search engine in general to expect straightforward factual answers that are easily available, regardless of the complexity of the subject.  Sometimes a question is a really good one and we should take the trouble to dig a little deeper.  Obviously, I am painting with a broad brush, but I know how busy and chaotic my life is and how desirable quick information and easy answers are, so my writing this is as much a warning to myself as anyone else.  It is ridiculous when I stop, think and have to admit that I cannot figure out how I managed before I got the smart phone…  When was that?  I got it when this model first came out on the market…  Hmm, let me look that up!

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Historian's Journal