Let’s face it – people these days just don’t keep as many physical artifacts (photo albums, journals, etc) like they used to. We live in a hyper time and attention deficit world, ruled by social networks and apps. Does all this data we are putting out there mean anything, and will we be able to access it in the future?
I’m big on data preservation – that is, taking all of my digital media (blog posts, pictures, tweets, etc) and making sure it is backed-up frequently and preserved in some way. I want my childrens’ children to still have access to photos, videos, and any other content I have created, so they can better learn who I was after I am gone.
Backing up digital content is easy. The problem is the preservation part, which has me uneasy (and slightly paranoid).
How do I ensure my data and digital files are safe and still compatible 20-30 years from now? Already I am noticing weird issues with files I had saved through various services from only six years ago.
Operating systems advance. Software interfaces stop being developed. Proprietary companies go out of business. Hardware dies or becomes deprecated.
The big considerations are as follows:
- Centralized or decentralized?
- What hardware (disk) should be used?
- What format should files be saved as?
Centralized or decentralized?
Should I invest in a company or service to safeguard my files, or use my own system of hardware and software to store stuff?
The former lets me avoid most file management and infrastructure issues, but what guarantee is there that the company I use will even be around in 20-30 years? What happens to my data when they change owners, policies, or go out of business? Also, who can I truly trust with all of my important data?
If I decide to manage my own files in some way (decentralized), I am stuck with maintaining hardware and ensuring something like a natural disaster or theft do not occur. This is not something I want to spend my days and hours thinking about.
What hardware should be used?
Should I use my computer’s hard drive? An external one? Perhaps USB drives, CD’s, or flash memory cards?
None of these options will last very long. Even if the media itself does not fail or die, certainly the ability to read from it will eventually. Just consider your options today if you had stored important data on floppy disks. There are certainly converters, but how much longer do you think these will be on the market?
So you would have to continually move your data from one legacy disk to a current storage option. This would get tiring over time, as technology (and options for storage) changes fast.
What format should files be saved as?
Consider those three or four letter extensions on each of your files. What software currently opens (reads) those files? Will that software (or some alternative) be around in the distant future?
I would assume standard file types (for example, JPG, TXT, HTML) will always be supported in some way, but who knows – maybe not. How can anyone predict what our digital world will look like in five years, let alone 20-30? Maybe there won’t be files at all.
Back to the physical?
All of these unanswered questions really make me want to start creating more physical things that future generations can easily access. The internet and computers make it easy to create things, but much harder to retain and preserve things.
Do I really expect my less technical future generations to fully grasp how to access my content, in all the various files and systems I use? Who could really understand it but me? That does not do much good when I am gone.