Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Bureaucrats and Stone Tablets

The Madville Times takes issue with a Watertown Public Opinion editorial that asserts that official notices should not be posted on line because on-line posts are less permanent than newsprint.  Cory quotes from the editorial,
Another problem with online posting is something called “link rot.” This is a phrase we didn’t hear of until a few days ago but is another strong argument for publishing public notices in print rather than online.
The average lifespan of a Web page is 44 days, a statistic often used in discussions of digital preservation. Ironically, though, the source of the statistic is no longer available on the Web. This loss or removal of content at a particular Uniform Resource Locator (URL) over time has a name, “link rot.”
…So there it is. Forty-four days vs. forever. It’s a pretty simple argument in favor of publishing public notices in newspapers rather than online [editorial, "44 Days vs. Forever," Watertown Public Opinion, 2011.04.04].
Cory also channels his inner ancient Egyptian, although, in his defense, I have never seen him "Walk Like An Egyptian."  He writes, "I suspect that the first scribe who jotted down Pharaoh’s commands on papyrus caught the same flack: 'What are you thinking, Kwill-Ho-Tep? That flimsy stuff will rot! Stone tablets last forever!'"

Monday's New York Times sheds some light on this issue.  Archaeologists have found "a clay tablet bearing archaic writing from an early period of state formation in Greece, more than 3,400 years ago."    Archaeologists claim that "[t]he tablet seems to be a “page” from a bookkeeper’s note pad," but it was "[n]ot meant to be saved as a permanent record. . . ." Covering the story Slate called the tablet an ancient sticky note.  The tablet has the word "meaning to prepare for manufacture" on one side and men's names on the other.

One of the archaeologists believes that the fragment sheds light on bureaucrats and record keeping.  “The fact that we have a tablet like this means that this government had scribes, and scribes are a product of bureaucracy,” Dr. Cosmopoulos said. “And this suggests some degree of political complexity and a growing need to keep track of commodities, property and taxes, all earlier than we once thought.”

The point seems simple:  the bureaucrats have always been amongst us.  The have always kept records, and even when they throw them away, the records show up.  That fact seems to be true for stone, clay, vellum, paper, and the web.

No comments: