The durability of paper

Tim Bray, whose career has taken him from the OED to Sun Microsystems, is regarded as a huge XML evangelist. But there is a “fascinating passage”: buried on his latest blog, where he was asked for advice by “the people”: who are digitising the only original manuscript of _Gawain and the Green Knight._

bq. “Your axiom is that the electronic edition is destined to outlive the book; yet I’ve held the Black Book of Carmarthen in my hands; it’s 750 years old and the illuminations look like they were painted yesterday. So we have empirical evidence that a book can live for a half-millennium or more. I’m touched by people’s faith that anything electronic can do as well, but so far, there’s not much evidence to support that proposition. So I suggest that after you’ve made your electronic edition, you publish a high-quality printed version, run off lots of them and disseminate them widely.”

The oldest substantial electronic text can hardly be more than 40 years old, and it would be very surprising if there is one even that old that can still be read. Bray went on to say that no one in any case knows what it might be, and that, if it is ever identified, the smart thing to do will be to print out a copy at once, using good paper and ink.

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1 Response to The durability of paper

  1. dave heasman says:

    Similarly, if people want their music to last, press it up in vinyl. Or shellac.

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