So, here I am in a PC Bang… Korea’s full-on blippy bleepy gamers’ version of an Internet salon. It’s amazing, how connected Korea is, and I keep commenting on it because it does amaze me. It’s like out of an SF novel or something, really.

Sometimes, computers are amazing machines: I can say this without hesitation when I think about the friendships I’ve formed across many kilometers and even on the far side of the world; when I think of how much I’ve learned; and when I consider how powerful they can be, these machines.

That’s probably true. But I can’t help but think about how some technologies are inherently less lossy. Yes, every tech has its upside and downside, I know. But the upside in a technology like paper has been developing for centuries, now, so of course I see the lossiness of computers in a different light. Compared to paper, I have to agree with Neil Stephenson, data stored in computers is just shockingly ephemeral, especially when you go on ahead and fall for formatting and a pretty GUI, or, as he puts it, “become an Eloi”. (By the way, the whole In the Beginning Was the Command Line essay is worth reading.)

I guess I just imagine that something like data loss will seem someday to our descendants the way we look at the loss of information on paper because of its flammability. It seems tragic, especially when it happens on the grand scale, like when a houseful of family photos is consumed by fire. Or, more terrifyingly, when it happens on the scale of the Library of Alexandria. I keep wondering whether we shall have to experience one or two digital Alexandrias before we decide to address the issues of lossiness in such a way that they won’t depend on end users keeping things updated manually. I have a feeling it’ll have to go that way; sysadmins worldwide are shaking their heads at peoples’ laxness in virus vigilance, and while it’s a boom for some businesses, it also makes the whole economic system a little too unstable for comfort, I suspect. I think we’ll have to perfect the GUI, the way the pen has, over ages and ages, been perfected. Handwriting’s not usually beautiful or calligraphic anymore, but you also get fewer inkblots all over pages, too.

I can hear some of my friends, more computer-literate ones, laughing and telling me, no, it’s you who is primitive and if you’d only keep up with the basic simple things you need to keep up with, you wouldn’t have most of the problems you have. People can learn to write with nib pens, and Bic pens are as barbaric as not keeping your BIOS updated and installing the right (pirated, of course) security software.

Sure, I probably should have known about the Blaster Worm. I neglected to look at my RSS feeds for a few days, and didn’t let Windows automatically update my system software because, well, my hard drive was full of crap. But if you look at the rate at which this thing spread around the Net, you’ll see I am far from the only person like this. I don’t want to keep up with what viruses and worms have been let out.

Does this mean I want Microsoft to have the power to stick its finger into my hard drive whenever I want? No. But do I want my system managed without me having to make a part time job of keeping up with patches and updates? Do I want to have to worry about it?

Okay, from now on, I’ll keep the hard drive less full. I’ll load the updates. But I think plenty of people won’t change the way they use their computers. And that, I think, means that probably there will be some kind of major change coming, to avert a Library of Alexandria-scale wipeout of data in the digital world.

Anyway, as for me I have learned my lesson. As soon as my PC is running and relatively stable again, I will update the BIOS, and reinstall Windows XP, and apply all the critical patches and updates and everything. I have a strange and scary feeling I will need to buy a new hard drive, though, and I also have a vaguely terrified feeling that for some strange reason, the power will go out and I will end up needing to buy a new motherboard or something horrible like that.

It’s especially a pain because I just got a digital camera and a minidisc player, meaning every peripheral object in my life is digital… and therefore dependent, for general use, on the health of my PC, which was perfectly fine until this week!

Ah well. Once the PC is working, I promise: images from my trip to Seoul.

Right, off to see if the drive formatted itself properly. I sure hope so… off to it.

2 thoughts on “ARGH!

  1. Yeah, the potential for data loss is pretty scary. Sometimes it seems like it’s only a matter of time before there’s a major hit and everybody looses everything…

    Oh. Except for those of us on Macs.

    Not that we’ll gloat or anything.

    Thanks muchly for all the Neal Stephenson stuff! It’s quite cool. Reading material to fuel my procrastination drive, yes!

  2. Well, Kat, I hardly think your Mac still having your personal email archives will actually matter that much, if services all over the place go down. I mean, the security would be nice as a kind of personal reassurance, but you won’t have time to gloat if something really bad happens and systems all over go kerplooey. Now, who knows if they will, but they might. They might not. If they don’t then you have a few macheads gloating and a few Windowsheads missing months of email and personal files (whatever they didn’t backup anyway… and I’ve accepted personally that whatever I didn’t backup must not have meant that much to me). If they do, it won’t matter which operating system you use on your little home computer…. right?

    So I think the point is to find a better solution, using the existing hardware, if possible. And it must be possible. If Microsoft hadn’t left so many backdoors for itself, I think the Windows OS could have been much more secure than it is.

    Anyway… just thoughts. Glad you got the Neal Stephenson stuff. I would have thought you’d have seen the IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE COMMAND LINE back when it was first posted to the Brin-L, within a week of its being first posted online by Stephenson himself. When it was first posted, the original site was put up on, I think, Slashdot, and the poor host server go so much traffic that it was pounded unconscious. People (including, as I recall, Nick Arnett) started mirroring it out of sheer desire to have thing thing read fast and by as many people as possible, so well was it received. I don’t know how much effect it’s had since, though.

    Enjoy, in any case.

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