I’ve been going through boxes of personal stuff lately. (Yes, I’m still unpacking from my move.) Along the way I’ve been surprised by some of the items I still have from my youth, even my childhood. There’s an entire shelf of ’60s era Hardy Boys books, and The Three Investigators, and Brains Benton. Aside from triggering a wave of nostalgia, it also contributed to my thoughts about unanticipated consequences of the inexorable trend toward digital media.
The Three Investigators series has never wandered far from my memory, nor have those rather stuffy Hardy brothers. However, until I opened the box I’d completely forgotten the existence of Brains Benton. If I were an eight year old boy today the odds are good that I would never have had that opportunity. Even assuming that the file format was still readable decades later — and that’s not a bet I will take — what would be the odds of the book still being located in his archives? Even if by some fluke the file still existed and was readable, without a physical object to stumble across, it seems unlikely that it would ever be opened.
Serendipity plays an important role in many discoveries, scientific and creative both. As we move forward into an increasingly digital world, we should take care to find ways to preserve it.