A problem archivists have been bringing up for a while now is that with the majority of content going digital and the pace of change in storage mechanisms and formats, it’s becoming harder to preserve content even when it is not what would be considered old by the standards of other historic documents created by humanity.
Case in point – the efforts required to preserve even recent movies as described in this article on IEEE Spectrum. As the article mentions, we’ve already lost access to 90% of US movies made during the silent area and about 50% of movies made before 1950. I suspect that the numbers for the European film industry might be even worse thanks to World War 2. However, keep in mind that those are numbers for movies stored on a more durable medium (and yes, I know that the early nitrate film is about as flammable as they come).
One of the moist poignant quotes, regarding Pixar’s challenge when trying to re-render Finding Nemo in 3D nine years after it’s initial release:
The fact that the studio had lost access to its own film after less than a decade is a sobering commentary on the challenges of archiving computer-generated work.
Even consumer households will face the same issue sooner or later when it comes to preserving family photos, home movies and other digital content. Just looking aroud my office, there are terrabytes of data floating around, a fair number of photographs and video. And of course this blog doesn’t have a dead tree version either, nor have I ever had an article published in a software development magazine. Not to mention that the ones I would have like to publish in (C/C++ User’s Journal and Dr Dobbs) are now dead and gone as well. Their paper products are hopefully still being preserved, but how long are we able to read their digital archives?
If we had infinite space to store physical objects we could try to preserve the computers the content is stored on, but that’s not realistically possible either.
For me personally, I am trying to make sure that the relatively recent content migrates with me when I update my computers and remains accessible. So far I’ve been lucky that my approximately 10 years of digital photos are all still usable. Even with that precaution in place I will try to shoot more film again, but only after checking that my decade-old Minolta film scanner is still working. Fortunately I also own a flatbed scanner that can scan film up to 5″x4″ and as long as it remains functional and software like Hamrick’s Vuescan supports it, I should be OK with a dual analog/digital strategy. Plus places like Freestyle photo seem to be able to supply more film that’s been reissued these days compared to a few years ago.