Immutability and Mobility in Knoweldge Media
By MortazaviBlog on Apr 20, 2005
All knowledge media (e.g. books, lectures, apprenticeships, movies, newspapers, digital and multimedia documents, weblogs, laws carved in stone, laws entombed in volumes preserved in libraries) can be categorized along "mobility" and "immutability" dimensions.
While some media (such as digital, multi-media documents) provide for great mobility, our reliance on their immutability proves sketchier than our trust in the immutability of physical, paper documents. When my paper arrives at my door every morning, I'm quite certain it was not changed between the moment of publication and delivery.
What matters in determining the stability of a given knowledge media is the balance it strikes between immutability and mobility.
On the other hand, many corporate workers have (mobile) access to their e-mails almost everywhere but different corporations institute varying policies regarding the length of time or the amount of space (or both) they will allow for archiving of e-mails. If a corporate policy says that e-mails beyond a certain time (or space) are going to be discarded, we actually have to reconstruct our worlds periodically over large time intervals to determine what to keep and what not to in order to increase their chance of survival. While much important material is now exchanged through e-mails, it is highly unlikely that all important e-mails will survive or that we will have a reliable, social aptitude for determining what digital document deserves replication into the future. The decision will be made, often, by programs.
Physical letters that matter, on the other hand, prove easier to identify and will probably have a better chance of surviving through hundreds of years. Their physical form already speaks volumes to their importance. (What sort of paper was used? Who was writing to whom? What sort of ink did they use? What sort of pen?) One can argue that they can even be "found" more easily because as time passes, their existance gives evidence to their importance. In an electronic archive, on the other hand, the degree of a document's importance remains quite hard to determine, particularly because of the lack of context that a physical object carries with itself.