The Impermanence Factor

For the past several months, some of the technicians dealing with my website have been having difficulty in updating the graphics on the rotating “carousel.” You may note that the problem has finally been addressed. I kept asking why there was such difficulty… and finally got an answer — a very simple answer, and yet a chilling one. The previous tech, who had worked with the web-designer, had departed for greener pastures… and had left no written documentation. If there happened to be any electronic documentation, no one could find it, and the techs who were trying to update the graphics were, as are many today, overworked and didn’t have the time to reverse engineer the system until recently.

This particular phenomenon isn’t limited to my website. The other day I was trying to install a piece of software for my wife and discovered a rather interesting situation. The directions were on-line. They weren’t simple. They wouldn’t print out. There was no way to keep a window with the directions and install the software. In the end I had to write them out by hand. Then there are the companies who have “solutions” to problems on-line, but seem to forget that those solutions are useless if you have problems with their website, even as you wait in a telephone queue for “technical assistance.”

These are all symptoms of a society that seems to think that electronic storage is permanent and that, because it’s electronic, anyone can access it and figure it out. Neither assumption, of course, is true, widespread as both appear to be.

We have books and records dating back thousands and thousands of years, evidence from other cultures and civilizations, written insights into what they did and how they acted. If we follow the trend — and go “paperless” as all the businesses urge us — what insights will we leave? We can’t even read computer records of thirty years ago.

This is even truer on a personal letter. My father kept letters he thought were memorable, and they’re still available, yellowed paper and all. Somehow, I don’t see much in the way of memorable emails being saved (if there are even such)… and there’s another factor involved as well. Most letter-writers, and possibly most writers whose works are recorded in print form, tend to write more accurately and clearly, almost as if they understood that what they wrote might be scrutinized more than once.

In my mind, all this leads to a number of questions:

Do disposable communications too often equate to disposable thoughts and insights?

Do impermanent and easily changed records lead to greater carelessness? Or greater dishonesty and fraud?

What exactly are we giving up for the sake of going electronic and paperless?