How long is permanent?

I got involved with a discussion the other day about time, history and what the difference was between temporary and permanent.

We argued for quite a while about what constitutes history. I took a precise science approach put forward the notion that as soon as a moment had gone by, it was in the past and therefore history.

Others felt that fifty years should pass before something was really considered history. A third perspective said a century should have gone by.

We failed to reach an agreement that would satisfy us all, but readers here know I am desperately looking for work and I made a comment about temporary versus permanent jobs.

In the 21st Century, there is no longer something called a permanent job.

Boy did that open a can of worms.

In previous generations, a permanent job would have seen someone working for the same employer from leaving full-time education, usually school, until they retired. That just does not happen anymore. People are much more mobile and not afraid to switch employers, especially in the technology & science sectors.

I used the analogy of a blog.

I have seen some blogs that have postings all the way back to 2003. They are not normally self-hosted blogs and using publishing platforms. I have always considered digital content transient. Let’s face it, the computer has only been around eighty years or so. That may be a lifetime, but in terms of history, it is barely the blink of an eye. If I want to create a permanent record of my thoughts, I have to resort to paper.

In the digital world, file formats change. Operating systems change. One standard becomes the fashion before being replaced by another. There is built-in obsolescence in the digital world. It is a challenge professional archivists have had to deal with.

Book of Kells Page
From Wikimedia Commons
With paper-based documents, as long as they are kept in the right environment, you can depend on them lasting for centuries.

The picture to the left shows an illuminated page from the Book of Kells which is believed to have been created in 800AD.

Now as it is written in Latin, you could argue the “file format” has changed. After all, Latin is by no means commonly used for conversation anymore. However, it is still a recognised “standard” and can be translated by those with the knowledge.

So the question I think we need an answer to is, how long should a digital format have existed and been in common usage before it is considered permanent?

I’m not sure any qualify.


2 thoughts on “How long is permanent?

  1. This is an interesting thought. Years ago I had a conversation with someone who insisted that nothing would be lost anymore now that we had digital representations.My impression is that, barring extreme attempts at conversion from one format to another, he was wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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