In my lifetime, I have seen the rise of the personal computer. When I was a kid, books were the thing.
Since then, with the advent of the personal computer, networks, the internet, wi-fi, and other technologies, more and more of our information has moved to these systems. Media has progressed from plastic LP records and magnetic tape to floppy disk, hard drives, VHS to DVD and DVR.
Now, we are entering a time when storage devices are solid state. The latest trend in hard drives is SSD, Solid State Drives. The iPad and similar devices all use flash RAM of one sort or another for storage.
Within a few years, hard copy production of books and magazines, music and movies will be defunct, except for specialty uses. All media will be distributed via the internet. The bookstore, the magazine rack, the music section at WalMart will be a thing of the past, used only by collectors. Publishers that don’t adapt will be out of business.
Evidence of this can be found on my iPad; I have read four novels on it since I got it, and bought a couple more that I haven’t gotten to yet; and I didn’t have to get out of my chair to go get them – download on each one is a matter of seconds. Same for software.
While there is a lot to like about this change, it will leave our civilization wide open for massive systemic failure.
When we are well into this future, and book publishing and the like is a thing of the past, a single EMP weapon could destroy the knowledge base of a nation – and it would only take six of them to do the same to most of the planet. This would knock us back into the stone age almost overnight.
This need not even be the work of man, either; a reasonably nearby supernova or similar cosmic phenomena might achieve the same thing – without warning.
If we’re smart, we will maintain copies of our information, in physical media accessible without electronics, in many places across the nation, for redundancy’s sake. This is important, to maintain the continuity of our civilization. We need to make a point of doing this. Because all information stored electronically is ephemeral.