I sometimes worry that our increasingly digital culture—as handy as it is in many ways—is also a reflection of our “throwaway” mentality. We are not thinking enough of the long term.
As a student of ancient cultures, I became acutely aware of how hard it is to preserve cultural assets over time. For example, the relatively few books that have survived from ancient times have all come down to us in scraps and fragments—even the Bible—and have been painfully reconstructed by innumerable scholars.
We are currently flooded with information of all kinds, and there seems to be such a wealth of media and storage mechanisms that it’s hard to image all this information not lasting forever. But it’s quite possible that even less of it will survive into the future than has survived from ancient times.
Digital files of all kinds—from documents and digital photos to books and blockbuster movies—are quite fragile. Anyone with a few gray hairs probably has old floppy disks, cassette tapes or VHS tapes gathering dust in the basement that can’t easily be accessed any more. Or old file formats stored on disks that the latest computers can’t read any more. And think of all those old photos and movies on film that may be hard to access in the near future.
I was listening to a recent episode of The Web Ahead, in which Jenn Symmonds interviews Jason Scott of the Internet Archive. This topic of preserving digital data is the main theme. In the interview, Scott says—
All of those things with the online world, are conspiring to make the chances that we can get information as fast and quickly as we ever could, in the history of the world, and we have the capability to lose it with no chance of recovery, even better.
Think of the websites we are building. Are they not the ultimate throwaway product? They are built for today with little, if any, thought for the future. Think of all the great technologies we are using to build sites—the CMSes, the frameworks, the various tools … all of which have a relatively short shelf life. And what then? Will there be anything left in a few years? And does it even matter? I recommend you listen to the podcast I linked to above (or read the transcript).
So, what are you guys doing about preserving the digital things that are important to you? What about your important files, your photos, your documents, your website content? Do you have a plan?