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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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When the apocalypse comes

5 May 2022

There is now so much valuable information stored in the cloud that I think it's time to get a little worried.

When I was young, the world's repository of knowledge and information was the library in the centre of town. Within its walls were weighty tomes that contained information on almost everything.

There were books that told you how metals were forged, how bread was baked, how car engines worked and how to sow seeds to grow crops.

Just about everything we needed to know was inked on the pages of those worthy volumes.

Today... not so much.

Whenever I want some information or knowledge, I simply fire up my computer and consult the internet.

No messing around with the Dewy Decimal system or endlessly turning pages -- it's all there in the blink of an eye.

What's more, I don't have to wade through chapter after chapter of sesquipedalian prose to get the info, I can just watch a YouTube video instead.

Almost all of mankind's knowledge and history has now been committed to the cloud and has become accessible from almost any point on the planet, thanks to the complex computer and communications technologies on which the Net is now built.

Books have become almost irrelevant in the modern world.

They're bulky, heavy, difficult to search and need to be protected from heat, light and moisture which means they're now the more expensive option.

As a result, even our beloved libraries are moving away from using inky stains on pulped tree flesh as a storage method for knowledge. Most libraries have rows of computers for accessing... "The Internet".

Now having all this info at your fingertips is great and to be honest I am surprised that we (as a species) haven't taken more advantage of the power this represents. Why aren't we taking advantage of all this free info to upskill and educate ourselves? Why instead do most of the population spend their online time watching cute cat videos and ridiculous "challenges" on TikTok?

Now this all sounds great -- but there is a huge downside to simply tossing the sum total of mankind's knowledge into the cloud.

What happens when the apocalypse comes and the cloud disappears?

That apocalypse could be created by any number of possible events.

Perhaps a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) will wipe out power and communication networks for a protracted period.

Maybe that war in Ukraine will become a nuclear one and the effects of EMPs as well as a general destruction of the planet's communications and power infrastructure will cause the cloud to effectively vaporise.

Even a large meteorite strike could plunge us back into the dark ages from a technology perspective.

If/when this happens, books could be the most important thing we have. Whilst our tablets, PCs, smartphones and other devices will become useless, books will still work.

All that knowledge that was in the cloud will be gone, or at least completely inaccessible -- whereas those books that remain are likely to survive and contain the essential information and knowledge we'll need to rebuild our world.

I certainly hope we don't forget about backups as we move to the cloud -- and the ultimate backup for all that knowledge and information has to be the printed word -- in hardcopy form.

Today's question: are we doing enough to back-up our knowledge onto low-tech storage such as books or have we already left ourselves incredibly vulnerable should we lose access to all our digitally stored information?

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