Peak Paper – Why it’s an important milestone for human knowledge

Interesting article from a while back about worldwide paper consumption: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49643

Basically the idea is that the maximum amount of worldwide paper production/usage was in 2013 (or 2012 by some accounts). From here on out, paper will be used less and less, even as the population grows.  Keep in mind that wood usage is still going up, it’s turning that wood into paper that is decreasing. Potentially the world will never see more paper production as electronic trends are decreasing the demand.

Will this trend ever reverse?

I personally can’t see anything that would reverse this trend. It’s just so much more efficient and easy to use silicon chips to store information then physical paper.  As you can imagine, the limitations of paper are massive compared to electronic systems. That said a simple EMP blast from a man-made bomb or a solar flare may wipe out much of the records stored on electronics. How does one trust that storing data electronically lasts the test of time?

Enter Factom.

If you haven’t heard about Factom it is one of the most exciting companies to out lately.  Factom uses the same technology as Bitcoin to create an immutable ledger for electronic data.  This ledger can’t be counterfeited as it is cryptographically secured and it’s contents are replicated across many servers to provide redundancy. Factom is a big step in creating systems that can survive the test of time, like the LongNow Foundation.

I first met Danny Hillis back in 2001 when he presented the LongNow Foundation to my company.  It was a sort of a “lunch n’ learn” session where he dug into the strategic concept of why keeping human knowledge in a format that could be read for generations to come. Using ‘analog’ technology like extremely small writing on a diamond (or other hard to erase surfaces) makes it very possible for a civilization to decode our technology without having to create complex chips and software to interface with any electronic systems.

It’s an extremely fascinating idea to think about how we are going to store human knowledge for the next 10,000 years.  One wonders if the librarians of Alexandria thought about creating a system like this to prevent the destruction of the western world’s knowledge; as the library was destroyed multiple times over history from invading forces.  Maybe they did and some secret society is hiding the information to retain power?

At the end of the day the fact that we hit Peak Paper shows that we can’t go back. We can’t return to a primitive time without electronics.  Returning would break the entire current system and maybe return the world to a pre 1900 dystopia.  I think the smart people are trying to figure out how to create systems that can function in the now and be immutable truth ledgers for the next 10,000 years.

Thinking ‘extremely longterm’ is the ultimate in leaving a legacy and giving back to mankind. Whoever solves this problem will have fame for millennium as the real Oracle and selfless leader… surpassing even a Gandi in status. People will forget entertainment stars and most historical figures…but how could you forget the person that planned out 10,000 years in advance to save the world’s collective information.   Will the bards in 10,000 years be singing: “Longnow Foundation, savior of our knowledge, selfless long term thinking, bringing justice to the world through Factom technology”?

Ask yourself, what can we do today to have the bards sing about us in 10,000 years?

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