From David Markson’s wonderful Reader’s Block:
Throughout the Middle Ages, often no more than a single manuscript of certain classics existed. One leaking monastery roof and the Satyricon could have been lost forever, for instance.
What have we lost in the mists of time?
I haven’t found a rigorous study, but there is a rough estimate of only <4% of antique literature surviving up to now.
With the introduction of printing press and then electronic storage and the internet, the bottlenecks seem to grow wider. Yet digital preservationist expect the large fractions of the “early” web to be lost forever. There is already some work being done on developing tools of digital archaeology – like reconstructing lost web pages based on their link context.
Nonetheless, the whole total of the human noosphere occupies a vanishingly small space-time volume.
A pale blue dot in the vast concept-space, fragile and fleeting.