The Library of Alexandria was the ultimate repository of human
knowledge in the ancient world. It was the one central place to go
for knowledge on any subject, from mathematics to astronomy to
philosophy. Having such a central repository proved to be very
beneficial for a very long time: if you needed to know anything,
Alexandria was the place to go. The huge store of knowledge also
served as a jumping off point for even more knowledge, and the
library snowballed in this way towards an ever increasing richness
and diversity of knowledge. Eratosthenes, Apollonius of Perga,
Archimedes, Euclid, and Ptolemy are among the scholars that graced
this Pierian place.
Unfortunately, having most of all human knowledge in one central
place turned out to be disastrous. In the fourth century CE, under
the Christian Patriarch Cyril, the library was looted and torched.
Seven centuries of human knowledge were lost in one fell swoop; much
of the knowledge contained in the volumes at the Library would not be
rediscovered for up to 1500 years later.
At the beginning of the 21st century CE the beginnings of a new
Library began to take shape. The Internet fast became a massive
store of knowledge, personal musings, pornography, mundane business
dealings, and a host of other documents, the collective writings of
millions of people. Off-line, people began writing books and
other information using binary file formats such as DOC and XLS,
controlled by one corporation, Microsoft.
Eventually electronic books did catch on; or rather, they were forced
to catch on. The hardware and software worked in concert to prevent
illegal copying and illegal reading: pay-per-read became as ubiquitous
as pay-per-view. On the software end of things the SDOC, or Secure
DOC, format, made by Microsoft, became the pen of choice for authors
and publishers. Secure DOC was encrypted, and only approved e-books
had the proper keys to unlock the encryption to allow SDOCs to be
read. These keys were tightly controlled and regulated by Microsoft.
Circumventing SDOCs encryption scheme was made illegal by the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act passed in the late 20th century CE.
On-line, Internet content providers saw how lucrative SDOC had become,
and wanted a piece of the action. Microsoft came up with SHTML, Secure
HTML, that would allow for pay-per-read Internet sites. Once again,
the keys to SHTML were Microsoft's property, and available only in
Internet Explorer. Eventually SHTML was done away with and everything
was rolled into SDOC, which became the one and only de facto way of
exchanging electronic documents.
Publishers still faced problems with people reading paper books. More
than one person could read one copy of a paper book, and this caused
the publishers to lose money. Late in the 21st century CE, a law was
passed severely restricting the use of paper for documents. It was
sold to the public as an environmental concern: why cut down trees
when we can live in an electronic, paper-less world?
Music, too, was being distributed purely electronicly in the SMUSIC
format. CDs, minidiscs, and other physical means of storing music
went the way of paper. SMUSIC could only be created by microphones
and other equipment with valid keys, and could only be played on
speakers and other equipment with valid keys. Pay-per-listen rose up
along with pay-per-read.
For a while having one document format, SDOC, and one music format,
SMUSIC, controlled by one corporation, Microsoft, worked well for the
world. Everyone had e-readers and e-writers, and they all spoke the
same language, and per-read fees could easily be collected. Everyone
had e-players and the professionals had e-recorders, and they all spoke
the same language, and per-listen fees could easily be collected.
Eventually, however, like all empires of the past, Microsoft ceased to
be. The corporation exploded in a nebula of lawsuits, intellectual
property claims, and red tape. Suddenly, e-books could not contact the
Mother Ship to verify encryption keys. Speakers stopped working and
microphones refused to record without proper approval from the Content
Verification System, which no longer existed. The knowledge necessary
to circumvent the keys, long ago driven underground by legislation, had
been wiped out when the corporations won the Piracy Wars of the late
22nd century CE. The keys themselves were locked up in lawsuits and
counter-lawsuits, and were eventually lost.
The lessons of the fourth century CE were relearned late in the
24th. It took humanity another 1500 years to fully recover from The
Alexandria Effect, as it came to be known.
"History does not repeat itself," Mark Twain once said.
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