Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tears in rain.

I am fascinated by old manuscripts. I don't have any because they tend to be hideously expensive and anyway, they'd be no use to me - I have no skill with languages and not enough patience to learn them. Although some of those nights spent on fruitless investigations might have been used with a teach-yourself-ancient-Greek tape, I can't know if an investigation is going to be good or bad until it's over. So I can't spend the time with headphones on.

All the same, it intrigues me that something written on a scrap of papyrus can survive for thousands of years and still be legible. Those ancient civilisations might be gone now, but their writings are still here. There is a scrap of an ancient copy of the Gospel of John on sale, if anyone can scrape together the price. Dated to 200 AD. That's over 1800 years ago, and it's still readable. Pity it's only a fragment of one page.

It's sobering to realise that, when our time is over, all this Internet-based writing will vanish. Not a trace will survive because, unlike that scrap of papyrus, none of it actually exists. It's just a bunch of electrons jiggled temporarily into shape on your screen. When the computers fall silent, all such writing will be gone forever. As the replicant said at the end of 'Blade Runner' - " tears in rain".

We may think that our civilisation will last forever. I'm sure the Greeks and the Romans and the Etruscans and the Celts etc thought so too. How long do we have? Well, since today brings news that a member of Parliament, one of the opposition MP's, has been arrested, his office and home ransacked, and questioned for nine hours, maybe not that long. The government deny involvement. The charge appears to be that he embarrassed the government.

I think I'd better print this stuff, while I can.

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