A trip to the local library resulted in me spending most of my time browsing for older books–particularly the ones that were published before 1930. A few days later, I was listening to a lecture on Shakespeare and was struck by the fact that much of his greatness comes from the fact that we have so many of his works fully intact.
In modern society, how much of what we produce will still be around 50 or 100 years after we die? The change to magnetic media as the primary means of storing data condemns most of what we work on to a much shorter existence than the printed material of previous centuries.
Websites that represent a significant amount of one’s life work will disappear forever once the hosting fee stops being paid.
My family has a small notebook from my grandfather when he was a teenager. How likely is it that the electronic records of a modern teenager will make it to their grand kids?
If you have memories that you want to convey to future generations, don’t trust it only to magnetic media. Take the time to make physical copies of those photographs or written records that are important to you.
Originally published on March 20, 2007.
I have wondered about these points too. Although this issue applied equally to all sources of modern information, I have also wondered whether future generations will be able to look through all those pictures we take of our lives and people we know. Or will everything vanish when the medium fails?
Any electronic media is likely to either decompose silently or if it lasts, to have outlived any devices capable of reading it — like the 8″ and 5.25″ floppy disks I’ve got, or carefully archived ZIP disks, tapes, cartridges and write-once CDROMs. The only realistic way to keep electronic data long term seems to be to keep it online on current media and that requires constant attention.
There is likely to be a massive hole in historic records dating from when paper-based records started to be replaced by computer-based ones.
Acid-free paper and pigment based (not dye-based) inks are the most likely long term storage mechanisms.
Kevin E. Schlabach says
I understand your points and agree. But I want to make a counter-point… the loss of most content on the internet over the next 100 years is a result of natural selection. If the content you have created is of value, then others will refer to it, link to it, and breath life into it (as was done with Shakespeare). Yes, your host account may die… but it will live on.
For most content produced and published on the internet, it deserves to die with the passing of time. The internet has created a great increase in publishing, but the percentage of quality has not increased proportionally.
Back to your point, I agree that it is easier if the work is “guaranteed” to last in paper format. I do make backups of some certain pieces of my content for this reason.