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Keepers of history warn digital era could cause material to vanish




Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist of Google, speaks during an interactive session in New Delhi on January 6, 2015.
Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist of Google, speaks during an interactive session in New Delhi on January 6, 2015.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images

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Speaking to the country's leading academics last week, a Google innovator, Vint Cerf, warned today's important records are at risk of being forever lost because of technological obsolescence, plus the transitory nature of emails and the like.

Predicting a "forgotten generation, or even a forgotten century," Cerf said "digital vellum" must be developed to preserve old software and hardware so photos, emails and documents can be recovered from floppy disks, for example, or any other soon-to-be obsolete medium. More worrisome is that material with unknown value would disappear. For instance, the as-yet-undiscovered Charles Dickens of today, unlike his/her predecessor, likely is not sending hand-written correspondence to fellow editors and writers - leaving 22nd century students without many clues about process and development.

What else do we risk losing due to digitization? What historical documents do you consider treasures? If you are a content creator, do you take steps to preserve your e-mails, photos and the like?

Guests:

Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive, a non-profit building a free library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form

Sue Hodson, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, The Huntington Library