What happens when today’s high-tech data storage systems become tomorrow’s floppy discs?
Google Vice President Vint Cerf is concerned about the answer and its implications for preserving history. Speaking at an annual conference of top American scientists, Cerf described such a loss of important information as a possible “Digital Dark Ages.”
Vint Cerf, widely recognized as one of the founders of the modern Internet and VP at Google, said this week that due to constant updates and improvements to hardware and software, documents that are available today may be inaccessible in the future.
“If we don’t find a solution our 21st Century will be an information black hole,” Cerf warned the audience. “We think about digitizing things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artifacts that we digitized.”
“We have various formats for digital photographs and movies and those formats need software to correctly render those objects. Sometimes the standards we use to produce those objects fade away and are replaced by other alternatives and then software that is supposed to render images can’t render older formats, so the images are no longer visible.
This is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs because they are just files of bits. The file system doesn’t know how to interpret them, you need software to do that. Now you’ve lost the photograph in effect.
If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”
“In our zeal to get excited about digitizing we digitize photographs thinking it’s going to make them last longer, and we might turn out to be wrong,” he said. “I would say if there are photos you are really concerned about create a physical instance of them. Print them out.”