Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In defense of old-fashioned correspondence

A new look at the impact of email on society:

The lost art of the letter by Robert Crease

The Internet is affecting not only how scientists communicate, but also how future science historians will have to work, says Robert P Crease

One can lose letters, of course, a classic case being much of Planck's correspondence thanks to an Allied bomb in the Second World War. But the challenges of electronic preservation are more extensive and immediate. As AIP historian Spencer Weart notes: "We have paper from 2000 BC, but we can't read the first e-mail ever sent. We have the data, and the magnetic tape – but the format is lost." Weart is fond of quoting RAND researcher Jeff Rothenberg's remark that "it is only slightly facetious to say that digital information lasts forever – or five years, whichever comes first"...
Physics World, January 2007

** Added later ** I do NOT read Physics World on a regular basis. In fact, I didn't even know the magazine existed until yesterday. This article courtesy of the highly recommended website Arts and Letters Daily.

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