Peter Cochrane's Blog: Scan my books

It's harder to say goodbye to paper than to bits and bytes

Written in a partially renovated house with a fully operational office in Suffolk UK. Dispatched to via a standard broadband connection

In my early engineering life I was fairly nomadic, moving from city to city on demand. I had few possessions and accumulated little of worth. But with marriage and children came responsibility and a need for stability. So decades ago it was decided the family would enjoy a stable existence and I would travel.

Some 30 years on, my children have mostly moved on and I have entered a new era of irresponsibility. It is now time to move on and downsize both property and belongings. To this end I have been working on a new house for the last few months and this week it all culminated in a partial completion and an office move which could be best described as an archaeological dig.

Where did all this stuff come from? The earliest surprises were the discarded technologies of a few years ago such as VHS player, Walkman, 500MB pocket drives (with spinning discs), floppy disk readers (remember them?), mobile phones the size of a brick... the list is endless.

But of most interest where the pre-PC paper records of meetings, conferences, lecture courses and the detailed workings of engineering problems that relied upon pocket calculator and in some cases the slide rule.

I had no problem ditching the dated IT artefacts but letting go of these manuscripts posed a more series line of decision making. The same was true of the hundreds of books I had accumulated over the past 50 years. It was all that accumulated energy expended in their creation, or detailed reading and familiarity. Memories came flooding back but a lot of books and paper just had to go.

During the ditching and destruction process my mind strayed to Gordon Bell's My Life Bits Project at Microsoft and the Google Books project - both are scanning all available documents and manuscripts into digital formats. Currently Google scans in thousands of books per week from selected libraries and collections - at some considerable expense.

I have a new model in mind. I would gladly pay Google or a Google-like organisation to scan in all my old works and books. Parting with them has been a bit like saying goodbye to a friend, definitely a bit painful!


Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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