Since the majority of content is going digital, a problem archivists have been bringing up for a while now, it’s becoming harder preserving digital content. This is the case even when it is not what would be considered old by the standards of other historic documents created by humanity. A lot of this is made worse by rapid changes in storage formats.
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, namely film. And yes, I know that the early nitrate film is about as flammable as they come.
One of the moist poignant quotes, was regarding Pixar’s challenge when trying to re-render Finding Nemo in 3D. Keep in mind this happened nine years after the movie’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. Preserving digital content like family photos, home movies, music and other digital content will become problematic. When I look around my office, there are terrabytes of data floating around. A fairly large part of the data is photographs and video. Yes, there is (digital) music as well but I never got rid of the physical media. Then again, fewer and fewer computers these days have built in CD or DVD drives.
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″. 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.