We Are One EMP Away From Losing Civilization

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Last week's episode of the Whence Came You podcast (https://bit.ly/2IhxBAr) is well worth a listen. Scott Hambrick, a member of Owasso Lodge 545 in Oklahoma, was Robert Johnson's guest on the show. Brother Hambrick is a founder of the Intellectual Linear Progression program, "an online community developing classically educated men and women using the great books of western civilization." (https://bit.ly/2GafSsU). With a decided preference for hard copy books, Scott notes, "One of the reasons I started this project is because I'm desperately afraid we're one EMP (electromagnetic pulse) away from losing civilization." Robert picked right up on that and they both agreed that is not an issue to be underestimated.

The discussion brought to mind some of the resistance offered when I was an officer in the Missouri Lodge of Research. We worked for a few years to establish the Masonic Library in Columbia. One of the arguments against going to that expense was, "We don't need books anymore. Everything is electronic these days. Books are old-fashioned and unnecessary in this 'modern' age."

I love technology. It was my profession. I want the latest gadget. I want every document I write to be in electronic format. Cloud storage is the way to go. With little reservation, however, I have a message for the world: Don't abandon paper.

In fact, along with that, don't abandon any of the "old time" analog archiving techniques. I mean it. Everything today should be digital... but not exclusively. Why? There are lots of reasons not to turn every document or historical item into a string of ones and zeros, but there are a couple of really good ones.

First, you've got to have the technology to use the technology. I have a boatload of old "floppy disks" around the house; not just the "modern" 3½ inch ones, not just the older 5¼ inch floppies, but the ancient 8 inchers. Try to find a way to read those bad boys today. They're obsolete. They don't even make good Frisbees.

Think that's going back a bit far? You think your CDs are safe? Studies have shown the average life of a CD is about 25 years. Uh-oh! You'd better run and check that Dire Straits CD you bought back in '85. Actually, the professional CDs have a life up to 100 years, but the ones you made... not so much. Besides, who knows if 100 years from now there will be a machine that can read a CD? A thousand years?

The solution? A good old fashioned record player. Really. As you read this, the little Voyager spacecraft has oozed out of our solar system into interstellar space. Know what's on board in case it encounters any extraterrestrials? Not a CD, not floppies, not tape, not an SD card, but a record and record player with pictorial instructions on how to use it. ET probably won't have CDs, but he'll be able to operate that simple gadget.

"Yes," you may agree, "but that's a really special case. There are no ETs around here." Well... probably not. But guess what: the official sound recording media our very own Library of Congress uses is 78 RPM records! Space age vinyl 78 RPM records to be sure but, still, Thomas Edison would be proud of us. And, naturally, original documents and books are its official hard copy storage media.

That brings us to the other big reason – the aforementioned EMP. Even if we do have the technology to read all this material, a single coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun or, God forbid, a nuclear war could wipe it all out in a single instant. Granted, if we ever have a disaster of that magnitude, our biggest problem wouldn't be whether or not we had last year's copies of the Short Talk Bulletin. Still, if we could survive such a disaster, in the long run it would be nice to have our historical documents. Hence, paper, vinyl and analog copies would be mighty handy. That's why the Library of Congress is making sure we keep them around. We all should — with both our personal and public treasures. 

Oh, and by the way, such an EMP episode already happened. Known as the Carrington Event, a major CME hit the earth in September 1859. The only reason it didn't fry every iPad on earth is there weren't many of them around back then. More recently, a small CME in 1989 brought Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system to its knees. It can and will happen. Guaranteed.

In 2013, the Masonic Library in Columbia became a reality. It was a vision of Harry Truman that finally came into fruition. Much of its material is online, with more documents being added daily. At the same time though, the library doesn't put everything exclusively into electronic format.

Let's be optimistic and assume there won't be a nuclear war. Doesn't matter: the next coronal mass ejection is right around the corner.

So let's keep pumping out the paper copies. Luddites of the world unite!


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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