Picture this: 1

I have a cup of coffee. I write a message on the froth, by sprinkling cocoa powder in a pattern which spells some words. Even though I know the likely lifetime of this record will be just five minutes, I take the cup of coffee to the archive. I tell the staff to preserve my cup of coffee forever, because it might be needed 100 years from now for legal reasons. I tell them they must preserve the full functionality of the message in the coffee: its look and feel, its taste, its warmth, and the wording on top.

Picture this: 2

I am walking along the beach. I write a message in the wet sand with my toes. Even though I know the lifetime of this record will be a few days at most, I dig the sand carefully out from the beach, and carry it the archive. I tell the staff to preserve my sand forever, because it might be needed 100 years from now for legal reasons. I tell them they must preserve the full functionality of the message in the sand: its look and feel, the sound of the waves, the glint of the afternoon sunshine on the grains.

Picture this: 3

I am reading a cheap tabloid newspaper, printed on highly acidic pulp. I write a message on the margin, with an old felt-tip pen. Even though I know the lifetime of the record will be a decade at most, I rip it from the newspaper and take it to the archive. I tell the staff to preserve my newspaper message forever, because it might be needed 100 years from now for legal reasons. I tell them to preserve the full functionality of the message: its look and feel, the clarity of the felt-tip ink, the pure whiteness of the paper itself.

Picture this: 4

I am sitting at a computer. I write a message using a proprietary, closed format word processing program. Even though I know the lifetime of this record will be only a decade or two at most, I email it to the archive. I tell the staff there to preserve my electronic document forever, because it might be needed 100 years from now for legal reasons. I tell them they must preserve the full functionality of the message: its look and feel, its behavior, its working hyperlinks, its hidden structure.

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