Living the (Ephemeral?) Digitized Life

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 — 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.”

Handicapping the Apple Movie Move

Apple Takes Aim at the TV Market – pdf

Steve Jobs built a career, a company and, some would say, a cult by picking tomorrow’s fight — a cunning the Apple Computer Inc. chief executive displayed Tuesday as he introduced an online movie service and a fresh crop of iPods.

Anticipating archrival Microsoft Corp.’s plan to unveil its own portable media player this week — a potential iPod challenger called Zune — Jobs again shifted the battlefield by showing off a device he called the missing piece that will fuse television and the Internet.

Eschewing his customary black turtleneck for a black button-down shirt, Jobs said Apple planned to introduce the device, tentatively dubbed iTV, early next year, just as Microsoft hopes to start building a market for Zune.

Making TVs and personal computers work together better is seen as the key step toward the broad online distribution of movies and television shows. The Internet is already disrupting Hollywood’s traditional business models as audiences migrate online. Apple, for instance, has sold 45 million video downloads since late last year.

But the transition has been slowed by the lack of a standard, easy-to-use way to display the countless choices of the Internet on the most popular screen in the house. People want to watch movies on their living room TV, not on their office PC or the tiny screen of a portable device.

“This is the missing piece. Here it is,” Jobs said, holding aloft an aluminum machine roughly the size of a 1-pound box of chocolates. “It’s going to let you enjoy your media on your big-screen flat TV.”

Rarely does Jobs provide glimpses of Apple’s pipeline. Tuesday’s peek may signal that despite Apple’s dominance of the portable entertainment market, it can ill afford to divert its attention from Microsoft.

Can Apple and its boss pick the next fight or will the Microsoft juggernaut overtake them the way it did a generation ago with Windows?

See also NYTimes’ Apple Plans to Inhabit Living Room