Scanning question (Is destruction of old tech docs a moral crime?)

Guy Dunphy guykd at
Sun Jul 21 21:07:27 CDT 2019

At 01:48 AM 21/07/2019 -0400, Paul Birkel wrote:

>If I may summarize/generalize, Guy, I think that your point is that there
>are Technical Artifacts and there are Cultural Artifacts -- and the two sets
>overlap to some degree.  Where the overlap lies is subject to great debate,

Indeed. Complicating factors are:
 * Technical artifacts/documents can be essential tools, required to maintain
   other things, of either interest, or actual critical dependencies of activities.

 * The boundary of what tech items are *important* can shift depending on
   large scale economic/cultural events. In certain potentially possible
   future scenarios, they may shift a *lot*. Someone jokingly mentioned the
   'John Titor searching for a specific old computer' legend, but such scenarios
   (minus the time travel) are quite conceivable.

 * As opposed to cultural items, tech items have an extra attribute: still works or not.
   Which is very important. Unless they are demonstrably working, understanding of
   their functions and use can become mythologised, and lose veracity and context.

 These are much less likely to apply to purely cultural artefacts.
 No one is going to die, or starve, or whatever, if say the Mona Lisa was lost.
 I recommend a book "The collapse of complex societies" by Tainter.

>Most of us probably wouldn't destroy a Cultural Artifact (e.g., Taliban
>destruction of Buddha of Bamiyan statue) but many might destroy a Technical
>Artifact in the belief that its overt information content defines its value,
>and that one that value has been captured digitally the Technical Artifact
>effectively lives on in that form.  The corpus is merely that ...

Even if the digital version _did_ fully capture the information content, I
strongly dispute that the physical item/document has lost it's value.
That 'digital is all we need' viewpoint is a trap for the naive, because:

  1. No one can ever fully trust the validity of any digital work.
     Trusting such things to be 'true' demonstrates a foolish assumption that
     there are no hostile actors, who'd ever wish to deceive and mislead.
     (Shows a collossal blindness to historical reality, and contemporary politics.)

  2. Relying on digital records assumes that the human race will never have
     any kind of 'technical interruption', in which digital storage hardware
     can't be maintained, with the necessary continual refreshing and updating.
     Ever tried to get a 20 year old hard disk going and recover the data? 
     _Sometimes_ it's possible, if it was stored in perfect conditions.
     Flash memory, EPROMS, CDs, DVDs, etc, all are ephemeral.

>At what point do you believe that a "mere" Technical Artifact becomes a
>Cultural one -- where the latter presumptively comes accompanied by a
>Requirement to Preserve?

Now we get to a critical point.
There's no chance of defining any specific cutoff criteria. It's a question on which
everyone will always differ. And this is why 'centralization is bad.'  If remaining
technical historical artefacts/books are allowed to be gathered into central archives,
then it's only a matter of time before those items will be destroyed. Accidents, deliberate
subversion, stupidity, financial upsets, natural disasters... But most often by some
official unilaterally deciding 'these items are not worth preserving.' 
Museums are OK, and it's good to make things publicly viewable, but only if there are _many_.

The best way to preserve any kind of history (tech or cultural) is for the physical items
to remain many and well distributed among private individuals who value them. Then even
in the event of some kind of widespread pogrom (not inconceivable with today's insane
Leftist herd mentality developments) there will be people who quietly preserve things.
In such times any kind of public museum/library institutions are toast. (And btw my wife
lived through the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia, don't argue with me on this one. Or I will
tell you some stories that will give you nightmares.)

The necessity to preserve multiple redundancy, is why destroying a hardcopy of a 'rare-ish'
manual in order to scan it, is so bad. Especially when the tendency to do that has become
widespread, so there's a high rate of attrition of whatever do remain in private hands.

>Being the "last known survivor" of a particular piece of hardcopy seems both
>an inadequate basis for determination in general, and operationally it's a
>pretty weak method since "last known" becomes dependent on a Registry of
>sorts (and likely requires good provenance to preclude forgeries, else

There can never be such a registry, and even to try making one would be unwise
since it just creates a 'burn list' for anyone who decided to wipe parts of history.
The term 'last known survivor' is short hand for 'Gee I can't find any references to
others of this item/book.' There probably are some, just not visible. And that's as
it should be.
For eg I have a quite old book, that a specific national group would greatly prefer did
not exist. Since it destroys a foundation of their lying political narative.
There is ONE reference I can find to another copy, and that's in the stack of a major public library.
It's one of the top items on my 'to scan' list, once I have the capability to scan fat books without
damaging them. In the meantime, it shall remain nameless.
Others may have copies. No way to tell. I have to assume that my copy might be, or become, the last.

>In your perspective is Artistic Merit an important consideration in
>determining Cultural value, and thus Requirement to Preserve?  How does one
>judge that?

Like Art. One knows it when it is encountered. A totally personal call. And this is good,
because it preserves diversity of content.

>As much as I like hardcopy Technical Artifacts for various reasons, I have
>difficulty with the concept that all hardcopy, even the very last known
>original, is worth (in the ROI sense, to include proper archiving and
>maintenance) preserving.

Well you should take that up with your great-great-great grandchildren, when they want to
know what today's tech (and its manuals) were really like. 

>I'm reminded a bit of "A Canticle for Leibowitz"!

A great story. But also an example of how off the rails a single institution can go, in terms
of preserving information about technology. Without working examples.

BTW. I have three IBM 026 card punch machines as a future restoration project. But can I find
a service manual? No. None online, only one for the later 028. And even if there was a PDF
I expect it would be the usual terrible quality.
Does anyone have a physical copy they would sell? Or as my last resort, loan?

Ditto for a service/schematics manual for the Documation TM200 punch card reader. No copy can be found.


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