Sunday, 2 May 2010

Where is the modern day Rosetta Stone ?


But for the chance discovery of the Rosetta Stone, we may have never learnt about the wonders of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The tombs and the monuments had, of course, been known for a long time. But nobody could understand the hieroglyphics, for the language had died long long ago. So we knew very little about this wonderful civilisation, until by sheer accident , a stone was discovered in Rosetta on which was written a fairly unimportant decree from Ptolemy V. The information in it was utterly irrelevent, but the beauty of the finding was that the writing was both in ancient Egyptian and in Greek, a language well known now. Voila – With a small primer, and the heroic efforts of Thomas Young and Jean Francois Champollion, the hieroglyphic script was deciphered. We know so much about the ancient Egyptian civilization because of this chance discovery. Contrast this with the ancient Indian civilization, where, despite the findings at Mohenjodaro and Harappa, we know very little because we cannot decipher the language. And in any case, they left very little written material behind.

This historical musing was prompted by the news that Sony was going to stop the manufacture of 3.5" floppy disks. Remember them ?? Some readers of this blog such as Deepa and Vishal are too young to remember , but there are a few, who I won’t embarrass, who have known of them! They were the staple portable medium for many years – a few might even remember the 5" and then the 8" floppies that preceded them. Now they are all consigned to the dustbin of history.

Most of human knowledge today is stored electronic. But there is a sense of impermanence to electronic media – if you switch off the power; poof they are gone. And the standards are changing all the time. Data files from even 10 years ago are probably unreadable. Mediums of storage are dying all the time. Can you read a Lotus 123 file today ?? What if somebody produced a Winchester disk drive of old – you’d probably look at it as if a mummy has come back to life.

The Egyptians carved on stone. Their language changed very little for 3000 years. So when they left their monuments, they were monuments in time. Even so it was gravely under risk of not being understood until the accident at Rosetta unraveled the glories. But what will happen to modern man. He is changing standards every 10 years and stores his history in mediums that will hardly last 20 years; leave alone 100 or 1000. So are all our glories meant to be insignificant footnotes in history ??

Despite all our sense of self importance, we are , but a speck, in the ocean of time. The worst fate that can befall us is one of utter irrelevance. Nobody even knows in the future that we existed, that we achieved, for our times, great things. That we were capable of art, of philosophy, that we made wonderful scientific discoveries, that we adapted like crazy at speeds unheard of, that we were capable of high emotion and noble deed, that we were glorious. That we sometimes descended into ignoble act, but we always rose with courage and greatness. I would like to say, albeit in a small voice, that I was there. But somebody in the distant mists of time needs to be able to see us, hear us, read us.

We need to leave our footprints, not on the sand in the beach, but cast in concrete. And we need a modern day Rosetta Stone.

20 comments:

  1. Very tought provoking post..
    Have thought on these lines sometime in the past (but could never have put in words, the way u have just done).
    Like you rightly mention, most of our technical advancements are dependable only till the time a better product is not made and with the way things are going we really do need something concrete to leave behind our legacy on.. cannot think of what it is that will capture our presence on this planet for posterity..

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  2. Inadvertently we too would leave clues to them!Future generations too would be smart enough to know about our civilization one way or the other!

    records are meant to be broken, so are the glories, meant to be insignificant in the long time.

    I also feel that all generations would feel the same way as mentioned in the last two para's [irrespective of their achievement]

    "Today's youth are so corrupt, not interested in knowledge our culture. It is too scary to think of future generation"

    Something to the above effect was written even during plato's days, which is so true and applicable even for this generation.

    Certain things never change and history repeats more than once, even when we dont ask for once more :)

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  3. //not on the sand in the beach, but cast in concrete//

    gajini padathula vara mathri cement slabla footprint vaikalama? kooda asin iruntha better :D

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  4. @AJCL - Of course all discoveries will be made obsolete with time and our great achievements may look small in the future. But just as we today appreciate the ancient Egyptians or Sumerians or the Romans or the Greeks, the future will appreciate us, but only if we some record and relics.

    @zeno - Spoken truly like the philosopher whose name you have taken. The little we know of Zeno of Elea is due to Plato's Parminedes. Ditto about Zeno of Citium, but for Diogenes Laƫrtius. There may have been many other famous zenos of whom we know nothing about at all. Not about records, for they surely will be broken, but to marvel at the achievements in that context and time. Sure, every generation says the youth is corrupt and longs for the bygone days (perhaps hardwired in our genes). Succeeding generations will value past achievements, but only if they know of them.

    Amazed to see a philosopher so young and so cool :)

    @gils - This is a gajini free zone. As if I know anything about such matters :):) Plizz to educate on the deep significance of the scene in question :)

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  5. Another marvelous post!! wow!! you are out of the world! More so this time coz the post itself is looking beyond known, predicable future!

    to some extent, i agree with zeno, the way we found a way, our generations will.

    the other part i feel is that it is it is an evolution. we have evolved from our past... our generations will evolve from us... and as a part of this journey, whatever has flown thru will remain and whatever has lost trace on the way is not relevant.

    a lil off to topic though, but i feel, even though we cannot think so far, we should think atleast a little bit into the future and try to leave behind a better world for atleast our next generation which alas is not happening today!!

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  6. The waters of today's post truly run deep. I'll echo the fanfare.

    The 3.5 is a relic now, wow, I too remember the larger floppies that were actually floppy. I can still remember using some arcane device to punch a square notch in them in order to double their phenomenal 140KB storage capacity. As a reference point, you would need multiple floppies to store 1 modern low quality, space saving, .jpeg picture of today with that kind of capacity.

    However, I will disagree Ramesh, I believe we have learned from mankind's past failings in self preservation and that in fact there are many going to the extremes to record all of today's communications. In fact the U.S. Library of Congress has been archiving every Tweet ever sent!

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2010-04-14-library-congress-twitter_N.htm

    I personally feel confident that the societies of the future will have unprecedented access to our modern madness, and even access to our opinons about the lunch we just ate.

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  7. uhumm..sonna teraithu talaivaray...antha scene paakarathukagavachum..neenga dvd or onlinela parunga :) semma scene :)

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  8. Lovely lead-in. Sadly, the moment just passed off sometime back itself. I use some of those 3.5 inch disks as tea cup coasters. :)

    I have seen the 8.5 inchers, used the 5.25 inchers, toyed around with the 3.5 inchers and then they are no more. Hmmm Nostalgia.

    If you recollect the Pioneer 10, which is the first satellite to go out of our universe, how would an alien civilization react (or even us) on seeing those relics on gold encrusted CDs that they were sent in. Interestingly some of the earlier space mission records seem to be hanging in balance as NASA does not have the equipment to decipher the tapes/disks. :-(

    As zeno states, hopefully the future gen has the wherewithal to understand their earlier generations. After all we have leapfrogged significantly only in the past 200 years.

    And tch tch tch, you seem so out of place with current moviedom. You should get some gyaan from Zeno or Gils on Asin (you should not ask who is she!) and the concrete footprint scene in Ghajini. :-) :-)

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  9. The only time I used floppy disks was when I had to save a copy of my first resume back in the year 2001. See I am not that young. But apart from that, I did not really know much of floppy disks.

    As for the post, its backgroud, its set-up - just fantabulous. Your perspective just makes me drool over.

    I think the moot point is to preserve our own identity and relevance in the light of changing technology and culture. They (future generation) may find it difficult or easy to decipher our language, our scripts or our data, but only if they get a chance to do that (exactly what you said). Storage and archiving of our own stories is what is called for... And leave it for them to find it and relish the vastness and glories of this era!

    Greatness will prevail somehow for human civilization itself is great. We arrive by default, we play by our virtue but we must depart with indestructible footprints. Amen!

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  10. I am feelin so sad. namma glory yai ellam thanjavur kalvettu lau porikanum nu asa padra ungalukku, current generation glamour girls theriya mattangudhu. yarai than kutham solradhu? nanga enna seiya?
    American law, theriyudhu asin theriya mattangadhu
    Powerpoint theriyudhu pavana theriya mattangudhu.
    Plizz start with thatstamil.com, nakkheeran.com subscribe kumudam.com and vikatan.com. i guess netnanny will be confused towards tamil sites.

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  11. if i say that gajini scene as mentioned by gils also has some connection with hamam graha pravesha offer ad, will it increase your curiosity towards that reference? ;)

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  12. Visiting after a long time ... totally loved it .. so well written ... and I missed all this during the time away. Kudos !!

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  13. @Sandhya - Telling comment that we should at least leave a better place to our children ; forget the far distant future. Absolutely correct.

    @Hopfrog - Hey thanks; I stand corrected. I wasn't aware that there are such massive conservation measures, although preserving every Tweet seems a bit too far !! This is the great side of America - only in your country would such an issue of preservation of the current history for the future be thought of and acted upon.

    @gils - If you say so gils !!

    @RamMmm - Sacrilege ! Floppy disk as a tea coaster ??? The Pioneer 10 relics would be a great find, whoever finds it, whenever. Forget what it has ; just the thought that we/you are not alone .....

    I was going to ask precisely the same question, but I suppose I better desist to avoid being beaten up; so will get "educated" by the masters that frequent this space.

    @Vishal - ha ha ; Can you now access that resume ?? Wow - what a wonderful last sentence ; eminently quotable quote ; brilliant Vishal

    @zeno - What to do zeno; Tastes lie elsewhere.Can read all those sites, but there's nothing like a teacher. Please lift one poor soul out of ignorance. Btw, furtively (no showing to RamMmm) - who/what/where is Asin ?? Ouch !

    @zeno(2) - Might have helped, but since I have been away I am ignorant of the philosophical ramifications of the Hamam ad

    @blogeueur - Hey; great to see you here. Missing your unique writing ......

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  14. Why do we care about leaving our footprint in the sand or elsewhere. Future generation will decipher our greatness if they really want to. In fact I always worry that in our time there are too many footprints left all over. When is it an ego trip and when is it truly in the interest of future generations?

    When I read gils' comment, I knew the "who is Asin?" reply was not far behind :)

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  15. @J - Hey J, of course its an ego trip. The knowledge and the science will carry on anyway. And yes we leave a lot of footprints, but they are all on the sand. They will go away in no time. And then what. Isn't there a small voice inside you that says ; hey world, I was there ???? Imagine if our whole generation was utterly forgotten in 200 years. No trace at all. Wouldn't that be very sad ??

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  16. Ramesh - I like it. And I think your readers should also have this piece of immortal verse to consider:

    "I MET a traveller from an antique land
    Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away."

    - Shelley "Ozymandias of Egypt"

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  17. You've thrown a stone in a placid lake!

    Individually and as a race, I really long to get my name registered in some log of our history. "How" is a question I have pondered many a times. Somewhere I had concluded its a futile effort. You will be picked up if you are interesting enough. This 'enough' is a personal prerogative of one Ms. Rosette Stone. Take Asin for example. She is beautiful, she is a heartthrob of half of India. But lets say we become Mohenjodaro for some generation, how relevant she would be to them? Or worst still, they find her relics and don't find anything of Shabana Azmi's. They will have a real twisted view of our reality.

    But I became more hopeful after Wikipedia, youtube, and google. They are what I would want to pass on to whoever comes after me. Its a brilliant job of indexing and filing our times! "How did the digital ancestor cut a fruit called apple?" - you have a video on youtube! :)

    And about things more intellectually important, they never die! Kalidas' Meghdoot is still alive! So will Ayn Rand & Charles Dickens. From our times, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Amitav Ghosh, Khaled Hosseini, Gulzar, AR Rehman and the likes. Its all artists and philosophers. [See I didn't call you Kung Tsu just for fun, he was a thinker and so are you. You already have the ticket to board the 'Ark' :)] Quite frankly thats all that needs to go ahead, rest is all is as ephemeral as that 3.5" floppy disk.

    ---------------------
    I would have loved to compliment each comment individually! :)

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  18. @Dada - Oh; those immortal words from Shelley.

    @Deepa - Much of our understanding of history may indeed be warped because of the specific things we found by chance. One of the greatest tragedies of mankind was the burning of the library of Alexandria ; our knowledge of the world of that times, which was a golden age of mankind is largely from the chance event of what survived the fire or what survived elsewhere. But so much was lost, never to be discovered by us.

    For sure a fair bit of our work will survive. But somehow, I feel that the pace of change is so rapid that sheer speed might lose many things.

    Superb comment Deepa. Shows us how much is missed as your blogging becomes more and more infrequent !!

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  19. I still have them....floppy disks ie;-D. Havent used them in about 8 yrs now but still keep them very safe. Who knows when they'll come in useful;-D????

    Jokes apart wonderful post Ramesh!!!! U pack in so much information into a single post, they are a pleasure to read:-). Please forgive me not commenting on ur business posts...I understand quite a bit of what u say but am not confident enough to comment on them;-P

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  20. @Reflections. Hey thanks for your very kind words. Coming from a master blogger like you, that's high praise. I am honoured. feel free to comment only when you like. Being a niche blog on business, not everything might appeal to you. Don't understand the "confident" bit - your posts and comments are very incisive and with a warm touch.

    You really have those floppies ?? Only use, I am afraid, is as tea coasters.

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