The Conceptual Challenge of Time

The second challenge is the Challenge of Time, or of Impermanence.

What digital material constructs gain over spatial constraints, they lose it over temporal constraints. A necessary but not sufficient condition for a digital representation to last over time is that energy is guaranteed in a permanent manner or as a continuous flow or as a long-lasting charge. In both cases the threats to the material survival of a digital construct are many. Just to cite a couple of examples, we can count the corruption of the medium due to external causes of any kind, that also include human error, or the interruption of the flow of energy due to faults. Or simply changes in policy. Or extinction of the person or the organization in charge of supporting the costs.

Then there are all the problems related to the codified nature of the digital construct, such as the obsolescence of the necessary hardware, of the software or of the formats used.

Finally, as in the case of objectual constructs, those who intend to pass down cultural content digitally must ensure that it still will have meaning and value for future recipients. The giants of Easter Island, for example, have come down to us, but there is no longer anyone who can tell us what they represented for the community that built them with so much effort.

From the point of view of the creation and transmission of digital culture the Challenge of Time suggests a main reflection:

  • the transmission of culture by digital means is a very delicate and complex process that does not tolerate the slightest discontinuity.