In Lost books, a couple of days ago, I expressed an insane desire to keep a digital copy of every book ever written. What now to make of the Memory of Mankind project which aims to put all our information onto indestructible ceramic tiles which are being stored in a salt mine at Hallstatt in Austria? I’m not sure I altogether buy their initial justification for the project “We have used writing for over 5,000 years. Some of these writings are preserved, enabling us to create a reconstruction of our history. Unfortunately, we now live in an age which will leave hardly any written traces.” I have to ask myself — when was that fortunate age in which more than “hardly any written traces” were preserved? Preservation has always been a chancy business: remember the burning of the library at Alexandria. How many of the immortally fascinating letters I wrote home from boarding school have found their way into “the archive”? Mercifully, none; though I do have one letter to Santa which they can have. A cardboard box with many of the idiotic essays I wrote at university may still be lurking in the attic of a house I once owned, though more likely the intervening years have led to their well-deserved destruction. I have a couple of scraps of my mother’s handwriting: a diary for one year only with terse one-line entries on a few days — preserved no doubt because it includes her first date with my father. Hardly the stuff to get the future historian’s juices flowing — though taped inside an old suitcase, the list of items taken by sister on a summer holiday might be more interesting to posterity.
No doubt lots of important stuff is there in the salt mines, though the come-on makes one a little dubious. And don’t worry about future space travelers being unable to read English or German: there are helpful vocabulary tiles providing a key to all languages. (Oh, come on!) Serious readers will be inspired by the knowledge that in order to preserve our literary heritage Memory of Mankind plans to ceramify the best 1,000 books of all time! This bibliographic initiative is named Cassiodor 2016, because “Cassiodor, a south-italian senator, realized during the 6th century, that its high time to collect any antique codices he could get hold on, otherwise everything would have been lost.” (We’d recognize him more readily as Cassidorus.) “To achieve this we look for a bibliophilic sponsor, who himself will be regarded as the ‘Cassiodor of the 21st Century’. Please get into contact with us.” So now you know what to do with that million you couldn’t find any way to spend.
This hare was started by the BBC’s program, Click.