A Legacy of Knowledge

Posted on 16-04-2012

One of the greatest achievements of human civilisation is what we pass on to future generations, perhaps most important of all being accumulated knowledge. How has the digital age changed how such information is retained and given permanence?

Consider the following scenario. Tomorrow, some manner of unprecedented electromagnetic event scrambles every electronic chip on Earth. Every device, every item utilising electronics is now useless. All out technology taken from us. It would be utter chaos, with all the services we take for granted suddenly disappearing overnight. And yet, we would still be in an immeasurably better position than that of our ancestors two thousand years ago.

The reason for this is that we still retain our knowledge, a knowledge that has been built upon generation by generation. The process of rebuilding the first transistors and silicon chips would be a far easier prospect this time around, as those bricks have already been laid. Of course, the development of electronics has been comparatively rapid and recent, so this is also advantageous. But the concept remains sound.

We never start from scratch, as we keep records of our knowledge and achievements to accelerate the process for the next person who wants to follow in such footsteps. The expression “standing on the shoulders of giants” is particularly apt here; in physics, the long-accepted axioms of Einstein and Newton have provided the foundations for all kinds of other discoveries.

For the longest time, such information was preserved in the form of books and papers. However, not only did these take up space and take time to produce, but throughout history, disastrous incidents have occurred that resulted in the destruction of said knowledge. Consider the Library of Alexandria, burned down by Julius Caesar in 48 BC, at the time the largest library in the world. How much priceless knowledge was lost here?

The Information Age has revolutionised this. Not only can information proliferate, be backed up, passed on, copied, spread, but also, thanks to it taking up next to no space, we can store all kinds of information. Not only books, or reference – we can store masses and masses of minor information, non-specialised data; there is no longer ay distinction as to what is kept and what is not. And it is not limited to being the responsibility of a central body – it can just as easily be the province of the individual. It is one of the main reasons the Internet is such a boon for those studying home learning courses.

This will result in even more information being passed on to our descendants as our methods become ever more sophisticated. Not only how much information is left, but the decentralisation of such information storage will help preserve it, ensuring a more powerful leg-up for the next generation of learners.

Of course, this whole article will end up looking fairly foolish if the opening doomsday premise actually happens. In fact, no-one will be able to read it…


  • AstralW
    15-02-2013 20:27:37
    I totally agree with you Melissa. Children are now so much spoilt with technology and gadgets that they're losing quality education and life skills...
  • rebecca bath
    01-01-2013 16:20:49
    lol april yes royal mail would prefer letters and packets than email, but technology these days people using ipads and phones to communicate, you never know what will happen, technology is taking over!
  • April Thewlis
    20-12-2012 13:40:29
    royal mail would be happy though as everyone would be writing letters again....no e.mail oh no!
  • daniela
    08-12-2012 04:08:27
    technology is evolving every day. every day there is something new to learn or get
  • rebecca bath
    19-11-2012 15:40:45
    we do rely on technology so much, the olden days they didnt have computers and everyone just got on with it, now people use computers in everyday life and you should use your brain more than rely on other technology.
  • April Thewlis
    12-11-2012 13:07:59
    the leap into technology has been amazing and is growing at such a fast pace... when I first started working I and a manual typewriter then an amstrad word processor using wordstar... how technology has evolved!
  • Jodie
    02-10-2012 12:44:25
    We do rely heavily on technology and the thought is quite scary when you imagine the impact if it was to fail - we need to retain some of the older methods and perhaps some form of 'hard copy' back up of the most important knowledge bases that we would need to preserve. It's bad enough when a hard drive fails on your computer!! :o)
  • Jodie
    06-07-2012 11:57:18
    Technology is certainly beneficial enabling access to vast amounts of information that would otherwise be unavailable to the majority of people. It certainly has its downsides and I think we need to find a balance between technology and preserving our history.
  • Kizzi Keast
    31-05-2012 16:22:03
    As long as people are still using a pen and paper and reading paper backed books then I don't think that we are quite on the edge of a breakdown. But the reliance on technology is reaching a tipping point. However, it's important not to lose sight of the benefits of technology.
  • Lindsay
    30-05-2012 17:48:15
    I agree to an extent that we do rely to much on technology, a case that was proven last year in Cyprus, when an explosion at the main electrical plant for the Island caused regular blackouts for periods of at least four hours a day, during which time everyone suffered due to not being able to use electrical items. But that said a useful item like a kindle is an asset to a child's reading, as there are so many books for them to read that are available in an instant at the press of a button. :)
  • Melissa Phillips
    14-05-2012 22:12:23
    I think it's dangerous that we rely too heavily on technology, old skills such as handwriting that were once taught strictly in schools are being lost. Children are being taught to read using ipads and kindles rather than a good old traditional book, I think this is a bit sad, we are becoming so obsessed with technology that we are losing track of the real world. We are all guilty of it though, I'm certainly not denying guilt as I do love my ipad and laptop to bits, but then I do have a life outside of technology as well and still keep the practice of hand writing letters to people :)

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