Last week I discovered a post
containing a quote that, in my opinion, pretty much summed up the digital age. The irony? The quote (loosely translated) came from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, of all people: "You cannot step twice into the same stream."
Well, isn't that the truth: In a world of seconds-long news cycles and digital tools that give anyone the power to report history (or what they had for breakfast that morning), you really can't come across the same content stream twice.
A recent study conducted by Virginia researchers Hany SalahEldeen and Michael Nelson tracked links shared via Twitter about major news events such as the Egyptian revolution and the H1N1 virus outbreak. They discovered that after two and a half years, about 30 percent of the original link sources had completely vanished. Calculating a "rate of decay," the researchers say that 10 percent of most information surrounding a major news event will be gone within one year.
Let that sink in a minute.
There's a 10 percent chance the information you read on a particular news event will simply vanish within a year. As if it never existed in the first place.
The Internet, with all of its social tools, is seen as a great equalizer. It gives anyone with access a voice. Some information exists that I'm sure some people would love to see vanish. But that doesn't mean it should.
I'm a journalist by trade and most definitely at heart. So hearing something like this truly disturbs me. Which is why I applaud the efforts of The National Library of Scotland to persuade the Scottish government to allow libraries to archive copies of websites, as well as the efforts of Brewster Kahle, who has been archiving copies of websites since the early days of the Internet.
There's enough going on that we'd love to pretend never happened. But those who come after us deserve the chance to pursue truth by considering a wide variety of perspectives. As far as I'm concerned, a 10 percent chance is 10 percent too much.
What do you think?