Digitizing the World's Cultural Heritage

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The term ‘Cultural Heritage’ consists of two words, “cultural” and “heritage”. By definition of a dictionary, culture means ideas, customs, and social behaviors of a society. On the other hand, heritage means property that is or may be inherited or inheritance. When we join both words, we get cultural heritage. Cultural heritage means legacy (ideas, customs, and social behavior) that is inherited by our ancestors for years. We can conclude that the cultural heritage more or less comes from the past and is the product of our ancestors’ society. There is a bunch of cultural heritage in this world. For example, the seven wonders of the world (The Great Pyramid of Giza, Temple of Artemis, Colossus of Rhodes, et cetera.) are classified by UNESCO as cultural heritage sites. UNESCO is one of the non-profit organizations that maintain and acquaint the complex. Finally, as a citizen, we are not only expected to maintain the country’s cultural heritage but we are also expected to introduce them to a broader audience, that is worldwide. Advanced technology is one way that can realize the point.

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In this growing era, there will be a lot more natural ways to do so. We can use virtual reality (VR) to simulate the experience in the cultural heritage, drones to capture incredible photography that is out of reach, and any other advanced technology to digitize the cultural heritage. However, there will not only be benefits but also pressure and challenges in implementing advanced technology into cultural heritage.

There are many advantages of digitizing cultural heritage. However, we will consider some of the benefits that we will propound such as digitizing the cultural heritage to make education more reachable, increasing the economics of the countries, introducing the cultural heritage sites more efficiently, reconstructing the cultural heritage sites faster and cheaper, and to minimize harm to antiquities.

First, by implementing advanced technology into cultural heritage, we can make the cultural heritage more reachable. In the past years, if we want to know about some cultural heritages, for example, the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, we should book a trip in advance or vacations to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, then we will be able to visit the cultural heritage sites to learn more about the temple. However, it is not as simple as a visitation, as we want to get knowledge about its historical background. There are numerous ways that tourists can enjoy and learn more from the trip they are experiencing. It can be done by hiring a local tour guide to lead the way so that everyone will be able to access a vast knowledge and experience towards the sites as well as enjoying the panoramic and beautiful view of the sites. Unfortunately, this leads to an increase in the cost and possibly confuse the tourists. On the other hand, if we hire a local tour guide, it will cost more money, and there is an uncertainty of whether we will understand what the local tour guide is talking about or not. With the advanced technology these days, we can find all the information, even the most detailed information about the cultural heritage sites only with the click of a finger. We can also save our money and allocate it for better things such as funds the UNESCO to maintain and protect the cultural heritage sites.

Digitizing the cultural heritage also makes the cultural heritage sites easier to be known worldwide. For example, Wonderful Indonesia is one of the Indonesian Government campaigns to promote Indonesian sites. Wonderful Indonesia has been running since 2016 and many Indonesian complexes, Piaynemo Karst Archipelago in Raja Ampat and Sianok Canyon in West Sumatra has been recognized worldwide. Moreover, many tourists begin to look at Indonesia as their next tourist destination. Wonderful Indonesia is quite successful in digitizing the Indonesian Cultural Heritage as proven in 2017, Indonesia is ranked ninth as the fastest growing tourism sector in the world. Wonderful Indonesia mostly uses Social Media Influencer or AdSense as their method to digitize the Cultural Heritage. With advanced technology these days, cultural heritage can be vastly known all over the world. Furthermore, we can also see the cultural heritage sites before we set foot on the actual sites, for example, using virtual reality (VR) or drones. Therefore, we can pick the cultural heritage sites that we would love to experience. At last, using all advanced technology these days is advantageous to bring up our cultural heritage in a global scope.

Moreover, digitizing cultural heritage can increase tourism revenues. With developed technology, we can make better installations such as websites or tourism applications to attract tourists. If we have improved our technology in advertising the cultural heritage sites, the demand for tourists visiting our sites will escalate. Indirectly, we will increase the tourist revenues. The revenues earned from the tourist can be cycled for maintaining the cultural heritage sites such as keep the cultural heritage clean and harmless. Besides, we can also use the yield to reconstruct the facility around the cultural heritage sites, for example, transportation. We can build the bus shelter from town directly to the complex; it will be very convenient for visitors or observers even for the involved workers. If the transportation has fully supported the cultural heritage sites, the tourist frequency will significantly pump up. If the number of tourist augments, there will be more revenues earned. So, this cycle will repeat all along and will increase the profit of the country.

Additionally, most of the cultural heritage sites are made for a century. Therefore, many of them have their construction deteriorated. With advanced technology, we can reconstruct the complex faster and cheaper. We can use Building Information Modeling (BIM) to make the reconstruction faster. BIM is a software for 3D design to make the model of construction digitally and providing space for collaboration (each worker can collaborate and add the same model so that we can have a complete picture of the construction). Furthermore, When the sites are damaged because of ages or even natural phenomena, we can solely close the sites or reduce the number of visitors. While the sites are being renovated, the government can build one exhibition venue that consists of a 3D printed model of the tourist site that showcases a replica of its architecture and provides a full explanation of its complex and wondrous history. Furthermore, the visitors or even observers can still learn about the cultural heritage sites while it is being renovated.

Lastly, by digitizing the cultural heritage, we can minimize the happenstance of rupturing the antiquities such as the artifacts. Because the artifacts have existed for an extended period, the material of the artifacts is more prone to decomposition. By digitizing the cultural heritage, we can have the information on how to ensure the artifacts in a better way. Furthermore, we can make an excellent installment to store or display the artifacts such as proper lighting for printed or handwritten paper, climate control system for rubber or wood artifacts, humidity control system to store the artifacts because some artifacts need steady and constant humidity (45%-55%), et cetera. With improved technology, we can make qualified storage for storing the artifacts. In this way, we can elongate the life of the artifacts for the next generation.

Nonetheless, there are also consequences of implementing digital technology to upgrade the promotion of cultural heritage sites. As mechanization is used to replace traditional methods, fewer people are needed to do the manual job, and this creates an emptiness in the work field. For example, in the past, tour guides were needed to lead a travel journey to assist travelers, customize trips, and provide explanations of the tourist site. Recently, this has been replaced by tour guide apps that contain better and more coherent information. It is comfortable to operate, practical, and can be tailored to give travelers a pleasant personal experience with their individual choices of places they want to go. As a result, more people tend to lean towards digital devices more than interaction with tour guides to plan their trips. In a way, these disadvantage job-seekers because computer systems can now fill the vacancy in the work field. An electronic brain can now complete the management of cultural heritage sites that formerly required employees to be operated. Thus, the employment field in the tourism area is lessened, and more people can be jobless.

There is an expression from a famous Brazilian Lyricist, Paulo Coelho, in one of his novels, The Alchemist, He states, “Everything in life has its price,” as well as the digitizing the cultural heritage also comes with prices; it is not free. Cultural heritage is not only about building, but also tradition, folklore, books, and many more. For instance, let us take a more in-depth look at how much it cost to digitalize the libraries. There are more than 400,000 libraries in Europe, and we have to digitize more than 80% of the printed materials like incunabula, newspaper, journals, and other printed materials. Digitize, one of the printed materials costs around $10 to $30 or 80 HKD to 230 HKD. However, we have millions of printed materials that must be digitalized. We can see how costly to digitalize the libraries. Besides, it takes around 10 to 30 years period to digitalize a whole library. Therefore, the cost of digitizing cultural heritage is not only materials but also took much time. In conclusion, transforming the library from analog to digital, or transforming other cultural heritage into digital is very vital. However, it needs time and much funds to complete it.

In this flourishing era, digital Cultural Heritage content can be freely shared, merged, and aggregated online. These features present a bunch of advantages for the users to access the subjects digitally and reuse them for learning and researching or even developing a piece of new information or content about the Cultural Heritage. On the other hand, the flexibility of taking the information and share it digitally make the content is complicated to be protected as a piece of personal information and ensured its trustworthiness. Protecting a massive number of Cultural Heritage content and information is remains a challenging task. A challenge is to ensure the authenticity of the content from the manipulation and copyright infringement by the public. Maintaining the authenticity of the digital Cultural Heritage is our obligation. However, keeping the subjects authentic is not as easy as turning the palm. Therefore, we need an appropriate policy, practice, and workflow like Article 12 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be able to correspond to the other right, such as intellectual freedom. At last, digitizing the Cultural Heritage gives us many opportunities. Thus, keeping the digital content of the Cultural Heritage legitimate is our responsibility, so the content can be used eternally and with unimpeachable veracity.

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