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Technology means that our writings will long outlive us


15 September 2013

Earlier today I gave my thirteenth "Thought for the week" on BBC Radio Manchester. As always, I was introduced as Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester because I want to promote the organisation and what it does.

When thinking of a topic, I reflected upon the absence of written records from my ancestors who were illiterate peasants living in the Punjab. That contrasts dramatically with the amount of written output the world generates today. With data storage becoming cheaper and cheaper, and more of our output being on the web where it can be captured and stored by libraries and other repositories, researchers of the future will have an enormous treasure trove available when they study the 21'st century.

This piece also allowed me to share the Muslim view of the Day of Judgement.

Thought for the week

My grandfather lived in a remote village in the Punjab in British India. He never learned to read or write, and as far as I am aware there isn’t a single written document from his life.

His son, my father, was born in the same village but came to England for the first time over 80 years ago. He was also illiterate, so letters to his family in India had to be written for him by other people. Such letters were far and few between, perhaps a handful each year.

After my parents died, all of the papers I inherited from them fitted into three small box files. They are the only written records of two long lives. The rest of their lives exist only in the memories of me and my sister.

The twenty-first century is a different place.

The tweets that I issued last week are all held on Twitter’s computers, along with the billions of tweets issued by Twitter’s hundreds of millions of other users. Add to these billions of Facebook postings and other electronic media. All of it is stored, and I expect it to be around forever as part of the common heritage of mankind, adding to more notable writings such as the Domesday Book or the plays of William Shakespeare.

While our accumulated electronic writings may sound like a mountain of rubbish, to future historians it will be a treasure trove, just as archaeologists explore rubbish heaps outside ancient cities!

As far as my grandfather is concerned, while the details of his life are lost to us, they are known to Someone. Jews, Christians and Muslims all have a concept of a Day of Judgement, although the details differ between the religions.

Muslims believe that each person has two angels assigned to them, one to record our good deeds and one to record our bad deeds. While you can hide your deeds from other people, you cannot hide them from God.

On the Day of Judgement we will have to account to God for what we have done throughout our lives. Those of us who have not lived perfect lives will have to depend on His mercy.


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