When even “backup, backup, backup” doesn’t cover it — digitization, formats and obsolescence: Unable to Repeat the Past
“All my pregnancy pictures are gone. The video from my first daughter’s first couple of days is gone,” Walker said. “It was like a piece of my brain was cut out.”
Walker’s digital amnesia has become a frustratingly common part of life. Computers make storing personal letters, family pictures and home movies more convenient than ever. But those captured moments can disappear with a few errant mouse clicks â€” or for no apparent reason at all.
It’s not just household memories at risk. Professional archivists, those charged with preserving the details of society, tell a grim joke: Billions of digitized snapshots, Hollywood movies and government annals, they say, “will last forever, or five years, whichever comes first.”
[…] Digital storage methods, although vastly more capacious than the paper they are rapidly replacing, have proved the softest wax. Heat and humidity can destroy computer disks and tapes in as little as a year. Computers can break down and software often becomes unusable in a few years. A storage format can quickly become obsolete, making the information it holds effectively inaccessible.
[…] “If we don’t solve the problem, our time will not become part of the past,” said Kenneth Thibodaux, who directs electronic records preservation for the National Archives. “It will largely vanish.”