My Data Rots — Eventually; Yours Will Too (Updated)

Bettina Tizzy tweeted about five hours ago concerning a Real World report on yesterday’s CBS News Sunday Morning.  When was the last time you backed up your old CD-Rs and hard drive files onto fresh discs?  Might want to go out some day soon and buy a nice big package, and take some time to burn all that data over again (or for the first time).  And get ready for the next format change, too, ’cause you’ll have to do it again…and again… and again, and again!

The matter is called data rot, and it’s well known in the information industry.  Ever since the paint first started flaking off cave walls in Europe, we’ve been faced with the problem that our “permanent” storage methods of information — well, they just ain’t that permanent.  Especially today, when the cause of data death is more from changes in storage format than physical degradation (which still takes place!), and happens far faster than most of us are ready to cope with.  I myself was caught by this back in the day, when I was forced to move up to an IBM PC from my lovely old TRS-80 Model I, and the floppy disks with all my text archives wouldn’t transfer across.  I never did find anybody who could take care of the transfer; all of that personal “history” and information is gone into the luminiferous æther now.

(UPDATE:  Bettina sent me a link to another piece on this subject, a 2006 print piece in Lost magazine that illustrates the point even more graphically.  For instance, the wire recorders popular for a time in the mid-20th Century can still function…but the wire recording medium itself has a problem with rusting, and decomposed wires can snap during playback.  Think of the history stored on such media that is getting lost, then add in shedding magnetic tape, drums and disks, CDs that are scratched on the reflective backing, etc. and you see how the problem isn’t adding, but multiplying.  And exponentially, too, not arithmetically.)

Before some random Luddite says “Hah!  Books are superior,” may I note that the printed page is just as subject to degradation as any other format.  Book burnings, and other disasters natural or man-made, destroy printed information all the time.  A flood or leaky pipe in a library can be a truly disastrous thing.  Even the Sumerians, who recorded information on clay tablets, did not create a permanent storage medium.  Just go into a museum exhibit of cuneiform tablets, pick one up from the displays, and drop it on the ground.  (And then calmly call your lawyer before they lead you away for vandalism and grand theft.)

So watch the video, and start backing up your information someday soon, before you find yourself up the informational creek one day.  It can happen to you….

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