There is something about Google’s latest partnership — the digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls — that says it all about the digital age. Google have taken these 2000 odd year bits of parchment and have converted them to high resolution images. Now, rather than being forced to study them in sealed rooms in Israel a scholar at a time, anyone can delve right in. I suspect that won’t be a large activity but it may include a thousand times more activity at any given point than was done before. That is quite some leverage.

Of course, that makes one wonder: what would the world have been like had these writings occurred in the digital age? This is hard to judge because there is some uncertainty as to who wrote them, etc. But in any case, I suspect that their writings would have grabbed far less attention in a world where information is plentiful rather than one were it was very very scarce. That is to say, they would like be both unstudied and non-significant. In some cases, the long tail is promoted by a lack of digitization.

Nonetheless, this is the type of project Google does so well. They note that information is stored, unorganized in non-digital form and just move to change that. That said, I am sure there is someone out there thinking that they’ll miss the smell of old parchment and the crinkle of it behind sealed glass walls.

2 Responses to From Dead to Digital

  1. Nate says:

    Will the scan quality be good enough to actually study the scrolls? I know that digital advances in archaeology have so far been disappointing, pictures or plaster casts of fossils are still seen as poor substitutes for access to the actual bones.

  2. Joshua Gans says:

    Just look for yourself. Seems pretty good for 99% of what people would want.

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