Proliferation and Obsolescence of the Historical Record in the Digital Era

  • John Durham Peters


From the start some fifty to sixty millennia ago of “behavioral modernity,” the name for the peculiar cluster of traits that define modern Homo sapiens sapiens, humans have been storing things. Lewis Mumford thought that “container technologies” were among the oldest and most underappreciated technologies—such as baskets, vats, bins, reservoirs, salting, smoking, and pickling, and more abstract containers such as family, ritual, language, city, art, and writing, itself probably the most important recording medium in human history. In contrast to “power technologies,” more specifically weapons, which have seen staggering “improvements” over the ages, Mumford noted that container technologies were relatively static and stable.1 Google, for instance, still uses “bins,” “barrels,” and “silos” in its computer architecture, and container technologies of all kinds remain absolutely essential. Indeed, the history of technology is as much about maintenance and use as about innovation, as David Edgerton argues. Old forms persist amid the new: horses were as important as tanks in World War II, and bicycle production has outstripped car production for several decades now.2


Storage Medium Digital Text Floppy Disc Modern Homo Rosetta Stone 
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© Babette B. Tischleder and Sarah Wasserman 2015

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  • John Durham Peters

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