The end when it came, came slowly... cracks slowly appeared in the world's economy as the endless quarterly search for increases in growth started running against the hard limits of the world's actual physical resources.
It wasn't obvious to many for a long time; the governments said unemployment was down, because they stopped counting people who couldn't get a job; GDP was up, because we counted increasingly abstract financial products selling back and forth as productive; gas prices went down, because fewer people could afford a car. Some countries had rebellions, uprisings, and civil wars, but they were always far away. Political discourse had deteriorated to ad hominem attacks and compromise was no where to be found, but hadn't politicians always been that way. You couldn't buy high quality products anymore no matter how much you were willing to pay. Shortages of goods were more common; but there was always a plausible reason; a strike, a flood, an accident at the production plant. Families were working twice as hard, yet standards of living were still going down.
As the cracks got wider some people started to notice.
As they saw the signs and recognized the decline of a civilization they decided to make plans to retain and use societies accumulated knowledge, thus came the question:
How best to store a very large amount of information given the following constraints:
- Capable of storing a large amount of information, say about 1 LOC (The Library of Congress print collection is equal to ~15 TB by some estimates)
- Technological production and supply chains are starting to break down, replacement parts more complex than can be manufactured by a hobbyist or group with simple tools are increasingly unavailable and expensive. Soon (~50 years) no complex chips, hard drives, or other high precision manufacturing replacement parts are going to be available (the possibility of stockpiling backup parts is okay but should work within the other constraints and should think about shelf life of backups)
- Electrical grids and grid scale power sources are failing, some locations have no electricity others have limited power with frequent blackouts. Some renewable electrical sources are available but provide much lower capacity than currently is normally available (Solar PV cells are complex to manufacture and will be unreplaceable after they wear out in ~40-50years)
- Must be a durable medium capable of lasting a long time under existing conditions (500+ years). Copying information or manufacturing replacement parts is okay to meet this requirement, but should fit in the other limitations.
- Must be human readable with maintainable support equipment; full read/write capabilities a plus.
- Storage method should allow indexing and cross references, the archive is useless if you can't find anything. Trained specialists are okay to meet this requirement (I always liked librarians).
- Redundancy, capable of multiple copies being made and distributed to allow for loss of data at one location. Speed and accuracy of copying would also be helpful (it would take a lot of people to hand write and copy the library of congress and would require some gifted artists/draftsmen to copy some non-text resources).
Some ideas I have had already considered to be good possibilities:
- Books, including mechanical printing press technology (The Silo series used a specially designed encyclopedia)
- Microfilm and readers requiring only optical magnification to read (copies and new info can be supplied with some pretty simple photographic chemistry
- Punch cards or other simple electro-mechanical computer storage methods
- A distributed system (regional library or a Saint Leibowitz religious order)
Which data storage method would best meet the requirements?