Hanging by a thread

The binding of a medieval manuscript, Lausanne, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire – Lausanne, V 1762

Knowledge has always hung by a thread. The threats to the transmission of information from one generation to another, from one culture to another, from one individual to another, have inspired innovative ways to help preserve and recover the vehicles of knowledge.

The flood of information and the apparent boundlessness of knowledge available in almost every medium almost everywhere on the planet can blind us to the distressing fact that knowledge is precarious, and that it takes very little to erase it out of existence. Now more than ever before, as physical media is abandoned in favour of digital forms. And the digital condensation in our hovering clouds can evaporate really quickly.

As the data servers are slowly becoming the new dusty old shelves capable of storing the legacy of the past, we have to wonder to what extent we are meeting the demands of good custodianship. Is hanging by a thread better or worse than hanging by a few electrons?

The written knowledge of the distant past has made it through almost every kind of disruption and destruction over the centuries. Are we sure we can guarantee a similar measure of survival for the knowledge handed down and over to us?

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