On the side of a lonely stretch of highway in a bleak part of Kansas, a man is pasting a sign on a billboard. The activity frames this episode of Season 4 of Fargo, with the phrase, “THE FUTURE is,” lingering through the storyline until it is finally punctuated at the end of the episode with the word, “NOW!” The message’s optimism and urgency screams at the viewer and belies the unseemly demise of many character’s lives (a few by tornado) during the course of the hour. The future is Now! Hurry!

I pondered that message on Friday during the launch of the book, The Future of Text, and excellent symposium of the same title, organized by Frode Hegland. As I listened to Vint Cerf’s welcome and to the first panel, I mashed up the billboard’s message and the event’s theme, asking myself, “Is the future of text happening now?”

And, yes, I felt compelled to hurry, for my own contribution to the volume, entitled “The Future Of Text May Require Preserving Text” focuses on the argument I have been making for years about the need to preserve our digital literary heritage.

You see, the future of text is yesterday, or rather was.

We needed to begin working from the beginning of our foray into digital writing to maintain it for the audiences that would arrive in the generations after us. But of course, we didn’t. Not really. Flash, a platform so many of us used to create digital narratives, games, poetry, and essays, will be moribund in 39 days and, then, literally 1000s of works will, too, go with it. My article talks about simple word processing systems that are no longer accessible, like MacWrite. Hypertext authoring programs that seemed the great hope of new ways of conveying thought, like Hypercard, are also gone, as are many of those wonderfully innovative stories, essays, and interactive environments produced with it.

It is not too late. We are only in the first 40 years of the evolution of digital literature. We can still salvage our future by saving our past with a wholesale effort now to preserve the work we are doing, have done, and will be doing in the future. And we need to do it as both a collective and individual undertaking.

We cannot rely on corporations to consider the historical and cultural loss they so blithely created. For if they did, Adobe would have set aside funds to maintain libraries of Shockwave, Muse, and Flash works before the company pulled the plug on the software programs. No, the drive needs to come from us, for without it, the future will always be a present moment with no understanding and appreciation of the past, no matter how recent that past has been.

Here is the link to The Future of Text book. I thank Frode for including me among the digerati that form the 160+ authors featured in it. It is an honor.