There was some exciting news earlier this week from the World Arctic Archive in Norway, and involves keeping a whole bunch of data safe for future generations…
You may already know about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—referred to by some as the “Arctic Doomsday Vault”—a secure seed bank located in a remote area of Norway, within the Arctic Circle. Since 2008, the Seed Vault has collected nearly a million samples of crop seeds from gene banks around the world, acting as a backup system in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe.
Now, the World Arctic Archive has opened their own nearby vault for storing data, including text, images, and audio-visual content. A small Norwegian company called Piql is offering “a secure and future-proof way of preserving valuable digital data”—by transferring it to a specially-developed photosensitive, multi-layered analog film and storing it deep beneath the arctic permafrost, safe from both EMP and nuclear attacks. According to Piql’s Katrine Loen Thomsen:
We believe that we can save the data using our technology for a whole 1,000 years. It’s digital data preserved, written onto photosensitive film. So we write data as basically big QR codes on films.
Piql is specifically marketing themselves as a way to store important historical and cultural documents—thus far, only the governments of Mexico and Brazil are using the facility for items from their National Archives—but the company is open to any “authority, organization, company, or individual”. So we have to ask… what would you put in there? More specifically—and relevant to our interests—what stories should be preserved? What deserves careful protection against all elements and potential destruction?
Many will say Shakespeare, Rumi, Confucius, and they would be right to. Many may suggest their favorite tales from scribes the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Octavia Butler, and they would also be right. But considering the context of such a project, other questions arise that go beyond simple narratives: which lessons would we like to preserve? Which depictions of humanity? Which testaments to our imagination as a species? Suddenly, the task seems far more urgent, and even more confusing.
So when we ask what books you would prefer to add to the World Arctic Archive, we are wondering what, to your mind, deserves to be remembered in our grand history of literature? Which books would you like other humans to rediscover in the future, after some sort of cataclysm—or what should remain for an alien species to discover long after we’re gone? Tell us what you would choose, and why.