Yesterday I talked about a storage device that could, in theory, preserve data for a billion years. Making somewhat of a bigger splash in the news is the cover of the latest issue of literary rag Opium. Haven’t heard of it? Not surprising, unless you frequent independent bookshops with exhaustive edgy litmag selections, but you may soon. The cover for issue 8 has garnered attention from Wired, Gizmodo, UK newspaper the Independent, and even NBC, and has turned into a sort of twitter meme. At first glance, though, it’s not clear why:
“TIME” in faint blue letters? Is that really worthy of such a flurry in the internets? Only time will tell—it’s the first word of a nine-word story that takes a millennium to read.
How does the clever cover work? Opium’s website explains:
The cover for issue 8 is printed in a double layer of black ink. The overlayer is screened back for the nine words, making the letters fractionally more vulnerable to ultra-violet light. The quantity of ink for each word is different, so the words will appear one at a time, when exposed to sunlight, over the next thousand years.
But will it last? Paper itself is remarkably endurable: the world’s oldest printed book, a copy of the Diamond Sutra in the British Library, is well over a thousand years old and still in good condition. If you’re planning on buying a copy, be sure to keep it on a clean, dry windowsill. You should probably store the instructions on the care of your magazine on a long-lasting hard drive when they do finally hit the market.
In a way, the thousand-year-long story is the bizarro, art-world twin of the ultra-enduring storage device. The cover is the brainchild of Jonathon Keats, a conceptual artist who’s caused a stir over the years with his unusual projects, all related to or inspired by science. He’s painted radio telescope data, tried to engineer God in a petri dish, and copyrighted his brain. The hard drive preserves today for all eternity, but Keats’s story, which attempts to span a dozen lifetimes with a fragile medium, works in reverse. It epitomizes the future’s inaccessibility; only via the slow passage of time will it reveal itself.
Unless, of course, an inquiring mind in possession of a high-intensity UV light source decides to give in to curiosity. Not quite as elegant a solution as immortality, but probably effective. I can’t decide whether that would be the perfect response to Keats’s infuriatingly elusive artwork, or if it would spoil all the fun.