Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Will There Be Historical Records from the Digital Age?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the stuff-to-think-about dept.

Technology 251

magarity asks: "NPR's Morning Edition today aired a segment on the Medici Archive Project where every letter sent and received by the ruling Medici family of renaissance-era Italy is being stored. The interviewer, Bob Edwards, casually joked that it was a good thing the Medicis didn't use email or else all this history would have been lost. It is easy to predict that at a similar distance in the future little will be known about our time period. After all, it is already problematic retrieve 25 year old data from 8 inch floppies, simply because the reading mechanisms are hard to find even if the media has retained the data. The same thing will happen to CDs in 50 years. How should the dawn of the digital age be recording itself for history, especially casual correspondence that gives insight into day to day life?"

"The Medici Project concerns itself with the rulers and given the recent report of US Congress members not making use of email one assumes they are still using good old long term archivable paper. Will the President and Congress in 2030 or even 2020 feel the same way? The main problem being digital records are so much more easily tampered with compared to old paper. It's not as easy to do carbon dating or other such tests with a bunch of bits. Remember: the victors always have and always will rewrite history as much as possible."

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Silicon Wafers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301046)

There was a company doing this, digitally encoding data with some etching device on a silicon-based wafer/platter/somethingorother. Wish I could find the link, but it's supposed to be *the ultimate* in long-term data storage.

On the contrary, there will be more data available (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301047)

Any loss of historical documents caused by use of email today in lieu of paper documents will be offset by the sheer volume of information available. Imagine how much data is locked up in slashdot postings alone? A good chuck could be rescued from some college student's web cache on their hard drive. Writing was for the most part the exclusive provence of a priveledged few that were actually literate and didn't have to worry about going hungry. Now at least a quarter (lowball estimate?) of all Americans use computers in some form. Future archaeologists will have plenty of information to deal with.

Natural selection (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301048)

Important information survives (usually). Trivial information gets lost. This is how it should be. There's no reason to preserve every bit of data for 'historical' reasons.

Hmmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301049)

Isn't it interesting that right-wingers are always complaining about tyranny, when in fact they're just about the only ones who ACTUALLY COMMIT TYRANNY?

Who is trying to erase any record of his past drug convictions? Who has been firing scientists that produce studies contrary to what his big-oil pals want to see? Who is cutting the taxes on his rich cronies? Which party quashed certain elements of the Census in order to maintain their power structure?

That's right kiddies, the right-wing and their puppet GWB.

So go ahead, preach on about Vince Foster -- meanwhile, we'll all be slowly poisoned by right wing tyranny and their greed-politics.

Yes, I care. Is digital really better? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301050)

I can pick up a book that was printed 500 years ago and still read it. 500 years from now can I do that with what I'm writing right now? What about letters? This is important in a historical sense. We have learned so much of how life was in the past just by reading letters from plain people. Of course, back then, when you got an education, you got one that is better than what they go today. Listen to some of the privates, simple nobody privates, in the Civil War and their letters sound almost like poetry. Show me a teen today that writes to his parents or friends with the same vocabulary or command of the language. They're too busy "gettin jiggy wit it" I suppose. But what medium can surpass the printed word? Or photographs for that matter. People seem to be buying digital cameras left and right, but what you buy today is outdated next year. On the other hand, I could pick up a Leica that was made 50 years ago and STILL slap film into and shoot away. Will my little Cannon S20 digital last me for the next 50 years? I can view platinum/palladium photographic prints that were made over 150 years ago and they're STILL as vibrant as when they were made. Can a print off an inkjet last for 150 years? We're so quick to get new technology that we don't think how this will affect those in years to come. Yes, I care about this. I see photographs of my great grandparents and read their letters to one another when my grandfather had to leave my grandmother to come to america in the 1910's. By reading their letters I feel I'm so much closer to my heritage and can tell how they lived and loved. (no, I didn't mean this to turn into a trip down memory lane). What I wonder is if my great grandchildren will be reading my "emails". Of course not, they're gone forever. So much information is simply lost in the wind. Shame.

Rosetta Stone writings and primers (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301054)

What may be the most difficult part of the problem isn't the long term storage, but conveying what's stored.

Think about Egyptian culture. We wouldn't have a clue without the Rosetta stone. It wasn't enough that they left writing and markings that have lasted thousands of years. We needed a tablet with the same message in several messages to figure out what they were trying to say.

So what you really want in your storage is a long term package, no moving parts or power supply, some generic and easily understood interface, and a primer that cannot be misunderstood.

Also, for those thinking we can just have plain ascii text, it's not that simple. Ascii is an encoding scheme. You have to have something in the primer to tell the reader how to decode the data and then what those letters and words mean, and so forth. In 2000 years we invented Latin, French, German, English, but modern German speakers would find Old High German hard to comprehend.

This gets worse as time goes on. It's already hard to explain feudalism to people, try explaining the Roman Republic's governmental structure. Now, try explaining American Democracy in 500 years.

It's not just the media, it's the culture. And a primer is how you get them able to follow enough of the conversation to get a grip on it.

Don't you know? Historians == IP thieves! (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#301055)

Making copies of data, even for historical preservation, without permission of the copyright holder is illegal unde the DMCA. You THIEVES!

Will anyone care... (2)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 13 years ago | (#301058)

I would think so. Yes there is a lot of stuff going on on the net that no one cares about now and no one will care about in 50 years. On the other hand we have most of the letters people like Washington and Jefferson wrote, because they made personal copies in a diary before they sent them (which made sense in a day and age when letters might not get there). And they are of great intrest to many people. And there are many other records from that period and before including a very complete set of Several hundred years of the Cairo Jewish community in the middle ages that was found about 100 years ago. That one existed because Jewish law requires some written records (those containing G-d's name) to be stored or disposed of properly. And the community just got into the habbit of saving everything. Its literaly hundreds of volumes of stuff.

In 50 or 100 or even 500 years will historians be able to access what we have done today? I hope so but I don't really know.

Re:Some thoughts (2)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 13 years ago | (#301059)

Well Limiting the number of formats that you accept has the major advantage that will not have problems that in 100 years people will not be able to read it. The other bad side if ASCII is that it will only do English text, If you want to archive a document in Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Russian or Chinese or whatever you can't do that with 7 bit ascii.

We don't have less long-term storage (3)

iabervon (1971) | more than 13 years ago | (#301060)

We just have more medium-term storage. The sorts of things that won't last more than a couple dozen years are generally things which, in the old days, wouldn't have lasted a minute: music couldn't be stored at all until recently, and many conversations we have by email (which could degrade) would have been done in person and never stored at all.

Check out the LongNow Library Project (2)

Carey (2195) | more than 13 years ago | (#301061)

Stewart Brand addresses this issue on the Longnow website:

Re:The problem looms even closer than that (1)

dsfox (2694) | more than 13 years ago | (#301063)

Once the computer age "wild west" mentality wears off a little, people will hire services to perform automatic nightly backups of all their data, just as sure as they buy homeowners insurance and wear bike helmets. Its just common sense. Data loss will become extremely rare, and even scandalous.

Re:I only see (2)

MouseR (3264) | more than 13 years ago | (#301065)

Embossed metal would be good.

No better. Metal gets corroded by water (worse yet: saline water), melted by fire, cracked by cold etc.

Besides rock, which has proven pretty good throughout the ages, there's one thing that could hold up the promise, and that's mineral paper [] . (Aka, asbestos paper.)

Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.

answer: (4)

desslok (7863) | more than 13 years ago | (#301073)

cat internet | lpr

The Rulers (2)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 13 years ago | (#301075)

I'm sure the presidential libraries and stuff about important famous people, the Medici of the digital age, will continue to be well preserved - at least that part that they want to be remembered for - but a vast majority of information, 98% probably, isn't worth the trouble of saving.

Currently I'm about to pick up a used Super-8 projector to show some films that are in great shape.
Also just got a 1930's Burroughs adding machine for $15 from a hamfest that, with a few drops of oil and cleaning is in 'like new' condition and will probably be in working condition hundreds of years from now if kept in the right environment (room temp, low light and humidity - basements, attics, garages and sheds are hell on that stuff).

only copied stuff is "saved" (3)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#301079)

That applies to 5 years ago or 2000 years ago.
Even paper distintigrates, albeit in centuries.
Only a tiny fraction of stuff is copied now or then.

Becuase archiving is so easy in the digital age (1)

erice (13380) | more than 13 years ago | (#301083)

I agree. The advantage of the digital age is that it makes it practical to keep things like correspondance. I've been archiveing virtually all the personal email I send or receive since 1989. There's no way I could justify keeping that much paper around. But in electronic form it is hard to justfiy not doing it.

media matters too much (2)

duplicateAccount (30454) | more than 13 years ago | (#301098)

For a virtual world we ought to separate the infos from the media. We could store data and execute programs some computers and use the majority result. See Askemos [] how this will work.

Once we are at it, we might find that files are worse than paper for another reason. We better had "write once" files. - If reusable paper were better that nomal paper, we would have it in the stores. Enough cycles of invention went over it already.

Isn't this scary (5)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 13 years ago | (#301099)

A democracy, a so called 'free society', can easily be manipulated and controlled by the person controlling the information. What happens when all information, except what comes from 'authorities' is suspect because it is so easily fabricated?

It reminds me of the Arnold Swarzen...(?) movie, "The Running Man". He's a police helicopter pilot who refuses to shoot unarmed people involved in a food riot. The powers that be manipulate the video tape evidence to make it appear that he massacres the people instead. People are shown the tape and cry for his death in a game show type fashion until some revolutionaries are able to show the real tape by hacking into the communications channel.

The temporality of public records has very serious implications for our social structure. If the only record of your speeding ticket is an entry in a database, what happens when a glitch makes you a drunken sloth who doesn't pay child support. If the entry showing Bush's drug convictions get deleted, will there be no other record. Trust me on this, email is a politician's dream. Everything from here on has plausible deniability.

Does anyone care (1)

Unknown Poltroon (31628) | more than 13 years ago | (#301100)

What the days slashdot articles are from 50 years ago? Do we care what they are today?

Re:Printer? (1)

paitre (32242) | more than 13 years ago | (#301101)

That sort of information can also be important to genealogists.
I know of several records from my own family that are part of inventory sheets, since the company kept the names of the folks who performed the inventory, and their contact addresses. It's -wonderful- information for dating when individuals were in certain places, and that sort of things.

Re:Legacy Databases (2)

paitre (32242) | more than 13 years ago | (#301102)

Historians may not be specifically interested in you, no, but what about your decendants?
The day-to-day information that we produce is the stuff that makes genealogists go nuts. It's the stuff that leads to books like "Roots". Biographies of people who, to themselves, seemingly did nothing with their lives, yet looking back ath them a hundred years later we see how extraordinary they were.
Should -everything- be saved? No. Personal correspondance with friends and family should. (and hell, I have -every- piece of email that I've received at work over the last year saved. Talking roughly 500MB or so of gzipped archives (which balloon to about 1.5G)).

How much of it would you want to read? (2)

er333 (32834) | more than 13 years ago | (#301103)

Although a smaller fraction of the data produced today will be readable in the future, there's so much more data produced that you wouldn't want to read much of it anyway. The fraction of it that's produced on long-lasting media like acid-free paper is still quite a lot.

Moore law says: don't read originals, copy them (2)

descubes (35093) | more than 13 years ago | (#301104)

I personally don't feel the need to copy any of my old floppies. All that I ever had on floppies and that mattered to me is now somewhere on my current hard disk (and a few past ones). All of it takes only a fraction of my 18GB drive. Assume I had 100 floppies that mattered: that's less than 200MB, which you can copy in a few seconds on modern digital media.

As a matter of fact, each time I get a new computer, I copy all the stuff from the old one, and it takes only a fraction of the space. The 40MB of my first (Atari ST) hard disk are there. The 160MB of my first Mac hard disk (120MB left after I copied the Atari hard disk onto it) are there. And so on.

The real issue is binary formats that have been forgotten. For instance, I have source code of programs I wrote in GFA Basic (a Basic for the Atari ST, in case you wonder.) But emulators come to the rescue there. Today, I can run Atari programs faster than on the real machine.

fscking freepers (1)

EnderWiggnz (39214) | more than 13 years ago | (#301107)

Fscking Freepers []


Re:Moore law says: don't read originals, copy them (2)

akb (39826) | more than 13 years ago | (#301109)

Assume I had 100 floppies that mattered: that's less than 200MB, which you can copy in a few seconds on modern digital media.

It would take a few seconds to copy the equivalent amount of data stored on 100 floppies but it wouldn't take a few seconds to copy 100 floppies. The distinction is important for archivists, who might have, say, a building full of 9 track tapes to convert, a process which could take years.

My solution... (1)

frenchs (42465) | more than 13 years ago | (#301111)

Well, a lot of people seem to be saying "I'll just convert as I go". My question to them is: What happens when YOU go? When you are in a box, or scattered on a hill somewhere.... who is going to do that ad-hoc conversion for you?

(sarcasm mode)
What I think we should to is get some text-to-speech software, and have it dictate all of our emails and such into audio format. Then we can burn a few hundred audio cd's. You may all be saying "how is this different from puttting it on a computer cd"... well my friends... if we have learned anything from the RIAA.... the music industry moves slower than molasses running uphill, and you can probably be those cd's will be playable for at LEAST a hundred more years. Serioulsly... if any of us were given a vinyl record... who here could NOT find a player to play it on? And those things have been out for a LONG time.


Some thoughts (4)

wiredog (43288) | more than 13 years ago | (#301114)

When the 3.5 inch floppy came out, I copied all my stuff on 5 inchers over. When CDR came out, I copied it all onto a cd. Made backups, too. Copied all my e-mail from outlook to the standard text format when I went to Linux. No doubt I will be copying my data to DVD-R someday. And, 20-30 years from now, to its successor.

One problem with archiving digital communications is the volume. One of the problems that were found during the many Clinton investigations was, when e-mail was subpoenaed, separating the wheat from the chaff. All the mail was backed up onto tapes, which weren't very well marked. And the first searches were done on subject lines. Quite a bit of relevant mail was missed, and turned up years later when people actually sat down and read every message.

The National Archives (here in the USA) is worried about preserving data. The various software and hardware formats used over the years make it difficult to track and retrieve the data. NASA has spent a fair amount of money moving old planetary exploration data from tapes to optical disks, and then to CD. My father worked on a project at DMA (now NIMA) to do the same thing there.

Paper (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 13 years ago | (#301115)

It is the only thing which has been proven to be usable after a huge period of time.

Or engraved metal or chiseled stone.

Automated chaff generation doesn't help (3)

devphil (51341) | more than 13 years ago | (#301120)

One problem with archiving digital communications is the volume. One of the problems that were found during the many Clinton investigations was, when e-mail was subpoenaed, separating the wheat from the chaff.

No kidding. I'd hate to be in Deja/Google/whoever's shoes, trying to archive useful data, in face of terabytes of "Nude Asian Teens" email generated -- literally -- completely automatically at the click of a mouse button. Especially since the most useful spam filtering methods (outright router blocks, keyword triggers, a bullet to the head of the marketing agent) are frowned upon by nice people.

Paper libraries have a "volume" problem because the media itself takes up so much space, and must be carefully stored. Digital libraries have a "volume" problem because any old jackass can easily create fifty times the amount of information that's worth keeping, and it must be winnowed out by a human.

Just my rant today (cleaning out another twelve spam emails).

The problem looms even closer than that (2)

Illserve (56215) | more than 13 years ago | (#301121)

At a personal level, I am currently denied access to email of my own from as little as 5 years ago. I would save it into files periodically, on whatever shell account I used at the time. But periodically there are non recoverable file system errors, or shell accounts that just disappear in the dead of night (we'll see alot more of this if the ISP burnout rate continues.)

So forget this problem of losing our digital records as a society, what about losing my personal identity?

I still go back and look at physical letters of mine from 10+ years ago, but email from as recent as 1994 is hard to find. That frightens me, frankly.

the paradox of digital media (2)

Illserve (56215) | more than 13 years ago | (#301122)

Data that is easily destroyed goes hand in hand with data that is easily copied. I think data loss will always be more prevalent with digital media than it was with more conventional ones.

need any 8" floppy drives? (1)

QID (60884) | more than 13 years ago | (#301123)

We have two of those sitting around in our basement, plus a few 8" floppies. There's also an old Z80 that might be able to actually use the things. My dad would probably be fine with sending one off to an organization that could actually use them, although I doubt we wanna pay shipping.

My mail server's down and I'm waiting for a new account, you can reach me on IRC at in #3ddr

Digital archives that last forever... (2)

fnj (64210) | more than 13 years ago | (#301126)

...or at least as long as active and caring human society - are no problem.

But you have to get away from the mindset that seeks a "wearever" medium, everlasting standards, and indefinitely available hardware. That is the naive approach.

The word is "living archives". The archivists' work is never done.

The approach that works is just to regenerate all data from media that is wearing out, obsolescent media, and obsolescent standards - before it is in danger of being lost. This must be a constant process of renewal. Since the data is digital, and anyone with the slightest imagination would store redundant copies in physically separated locations, the process is lossless.

So when 3.5" diskettes become well established, and 5.25" diskettes start looking like orphans, you redub everything from 5.25" to 3.5". Then the same thing when CDs overtake 3.5" diskettes. And on and on (I seriously doubt CDs are forever in any sense of the word).

The trick is to know when the time is right each time. I won't minimize the problem. But the watchword is "be conservative".

Even print media have become "transient" (2)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 13 years ago | (#301128)

Twenty years or so ago, the Smithsonian museum had an exhibit about fiber optics that included a working model of Alexander Bell's "light phone" (it mechanically modulated a beam of sunlight) and his original lab notebook (borrowed from Bell Labs' engineering records). The notebook was still legible because (a) the paper was acid-free and (b) the ink was pigment-based. Even though I keep a notebook, it will not be legible in 100 years (perhaps one of my great grandchildren will be interested) because either (a) the high-acid paper will have decomposed or (b) the parts written with dye-based ink will have faded.

The fairly recent PBS documentary on the US Civil War was based in large part on letters and journals written by soldiers using (you guessed it!) acid-free paper and pigment-based ink.

Make tomorrow's history! Write letters and keep journals using acid-free paper and pigment-based ink -- if it's all that survives, it will be the authoritative material on the typical daily life!

Historians are historians (2)

L-Train8 (70991) | more than 13 years ago | (#301130)

The Medici project has experts working with fragile, hundreds-of-years-old paper documents. It is conceivable that in the future, there will be similiar experts who have special tools and procedures for reading ancient media like CD's. However, IIRC, the lifespan of optical media like CD's is about 100 years. Perhaps future technology will be able to extract data from partially degraded CD's. Historians have always faced challenges in finding data that have been worn away by time. Future historians will be no different.

CD's fade away? (2)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 13 years ago | (#301131)

There was some talk on another thread about how long CD's would last. Audio CD's, and infact all cd's that are 'pressed' (IE not CD-R's and CD-RW's) should last a very long time. These disks are NOT subject to 'laser rot'. Laser rot was what happened to early 12" laser video disks. Laser disks are two sided, and are made in the same way as audio cd's in that the information is hot pressed onto the plastic, and then aluminum is vacuum deposted onto the plastic to make it reflective. Two of these disks are then glued together. What was happening was that the glue was attacking the aluminum and mosture was getting inbetween the disks. Better glue formulas have mostly solved this problem. Audio and computer CD's that are factory pressed are single sided. The aluminum is protected by a coating of varnish which serves as the label. As long as this is not scratched the aluminum layer will remain intact and the data can be read. It might be possible to restore a damaged disk by stripping off the varnish and aluminum and vacuum deposting a new layer of aluminum. Not something you can do at home though. DVD's consist of two or four disks sandwitched together, they might have laser rot problems if the glue isn't good....

CD-R's and CD-RW disks record via a dye that changes color and reflectivity with heat from the laser. This dye can destablise under light and heat. So keeping your CD-R's and CD-RW's in a dark cool place would be a good idea. Also the more they are 'played' the shorter their lifespan might be. So make a backup copy of any CD-R/RW you want to keep. CD-R's might be more stable than CD-RW's.

Not only media problems... (2)

rkent (73434) | more than 13 years ago | (#301133)

Oh man. I don't think degredation of media even comes into play sometimes. Have you ever tried to find a story from yesterday's paper on your local newspaper's website? A lot of times stuff just gets cycled out the next day.

Of course, the NYTimes, etc, have archive searches as a premium service, but there are just tons of media outlets that don't seem to archive, or if they do, don't seem concerned with letting people get at it. This seems like at least as much of a concern as degrading media: the organization and maintainence of archives in the FIRST place.

Digital preservation is a well-known issue... (2)

Christopher Whitt (74084) | more than 13 years ago | (#301134)

This topic is one that is already being seriously considered by librarians and historians.

The USA's Library of Congress [] Preservation Reformatting Division [] is digitizing many items for preservation, and you can be sure that they're concerned that the digital preservation will be at least as effective as the original (analog, paper, whatever) form.

One of the current projects of the Research Libraries Group [] is data preservation [] . The RLG is an international group formed originally by Columbia, Harvard, and Yale universities and The New York Public Library in 1975, with current members from academia, government archives, public and private sector historical organizations.

A google [] search on digital data preservation [] gives plenty more linkage to groups actively looking at the issues involved in digital storage.

Of course, there is still a huge volume of personal and corporate data that will no doubt degrade to dust. For that, we all need to take the approach [] of wiredog to keep our personal data accessible by refreshing the media as technology advances.

Naturally, since this is Slashdot, all of this has been already covered [] . This article [] was a particularly good treatment of the topic and was posted as a followup to an older [] Ask Slashdot.

Really, how different will it be if the future only has the preserved personal effects and communications of an insignificant fraction of the general population? Today, archeologists make a career out of extrapolating whole civilizations out of building foundations and shards of pottery.

So, with a little care, I'm confident that my own data will be happily accessible as long as I need it. After that, the future will take care of itself.

Re:Natural selection (5)

spasm (79260) | more than 13 years ago | (#301137)

"Important information survives (usually). Trivial information gets lost. This is how it should be. There's no reason to preserve every bit of data for 'historical' reasons."

I've worked on research projects whose primary source was day-to-day accounting records of a small business running in Egypt during the 11th century. The records were preserved in part because they were at the bottom of a trash pile. The records gave us a huge amount of information about everything from transport methods to the ability of the state to collect tax. Most of the 'important information' from that period which people though was worth preserving revolves around which ruler stomped which other ruler's butt. Our 'trivial information' gave us a lot of stuff which we knew nothing about before, stuff which helped explain why ruler X had the economic wherewithall to stomp ruler Y's butt and, well, more interestingly, what it was like to live under ruler X or Y.

The same applies today. Yeah, a record of what your family ate for dinner for the past two weeks is truly trivial. But what it will say about daily life, the transport of food, diet, cooking technology, food storage & a whole lot more about life in the early 21st century might be invaluable to some historian in a thousand years.

Your 'trivial information' is someone elses data goldmine and vice versa. One of the things I really like about computers is they allow you to keep a lot of personal shit you might otherwise have to trash because it gets bulky. The chances that I'll hang onto all my mail & all my parent's mail and all my grandparents mail is pretty good when it fits onto a CD rather than choking up my small apartment with boxes. The chances that some future historian will get to read ordinary everyday mail rather than just the mail of presidents and kings in a thousand years is getting better.

Make a drive? (2)

jidar (83795) | more than 13 years ago | (#301140)

I hate to trivialize this and become just another /. naysayer, but if it's that important they can build a cd-rom drive.

On optical media. (3)

supabeast! (84658) | more than 13 years ago | (#301141)

Optical media is not really such a bad option. A useful, self contained system for playback of optical media could be easily built. If nothing else, carefully preserved schematics for future readers of media could be store with it to make sure that if the machine is ruined and media survives, it might still be read.

The real reason that old magnetic tape is hard to read now is that it was never a great format in the first place. The stuff falls apart. My last employer had an old HP reel-to-reel machine for reading data on tapes from a company we had purchased, but the tapes were so old that the chemicals on the tape itself turned to dust and fell off. This is not a problem with optical storage. Optical storage also has the option of being dedicated in very small spaces, unlike the van sized tape players of old.

Life is also not a big issue with optical media, because just as the books of the Medici's were recopied over and over into new languages and on better bindings, so can data be quickly copied from old optical media onto newer formats.

The answer to this question is pretty obvious... (5)

smoondog (85133) | more than 13 years ago | (#301143)

I'm at a loss to understand why this question is perceived as being difficult to answer. Notice the posting talked of the *ruling* class. Today we look back at history and see people who kept records of their letters. They are usually wealthy and upper class.

The analogy would be to read emails from, say, the white house in 200 years. Do you think the white house is saving their emails? You bet. Do we have lots of examples of (from the general public) letters from 200 years ago? Certainly not as many as there will be emails in the future. Usenet archives, digital backups stored in basements, most emails are being stored two or more times at two or more places. I don't quite understand why someone would think that just because it isn't on paper, it isn't going to keep. We are going to have far more emails stored in the future than we will know what to do with.

As society we think of ourselves as individuals to be pretty important, but lets face it, for the vast majority of us, no one is going to care in 150 years. With that in mind, the digital age is storing far more records than ever before and the future holds a new paradigm of historical record. I almost lament that I wasn't born 150 years after the advent of the digital age where high resolution movies will look as good 1000 years from now as they do today.


CDR lifespan (1)

eagl (86459) | more than 13 years ago | (#301145)

50 years is pretty optimistic for CD lifespans. I've found that after 2-3 years, a typical audio CDR blank will begin to show noticable degredation and after 5 years is sometimes completely unreadable due to internal corrosion or other faults, even using good quality CDR blanks.

Of course, factory burned CD's last much longer but we're talking about digital archives, and those are typically burned by individuals using some sort of CDR or CDRW blanks.

This is a known problem (4)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 13 years ago | (#301147)

This problem is aggrivated by the current copyright laws. Long after the copyright holder's lost interest, it will be illegal to copy the content to fresh media. Lars may bitch and moan now about his songs being stolen but in 100 years will anyone know who his band is or hear his songs again? The DMCA will only make this problem worse, potentially making it impossible to preserve any works from this era.

Likewise, various people are trying to shut down the MAME ROM sites, but a lot of the hardware ROMs are deteriorating now and many of those games, which represent a golden age of creativity and a technical wonder of resource usage, will be gone forever. Kinda makes you sick, doesn't it?

Re:Deleting Archives (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 13 years ago | (#301152)

Heh why not just encrypt them and archive them?

Sure... its not perfect, you need to keep the key safe (or at least the passphrase for the key).

The added bonus is that in a few hundred years when someone may want to add them to a hiistorical record, the encryption key will probably be short enough (by that days standards) as to take a day or so to break.


Re:Deleting Archives (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 13 years ago | (#301153)

So like, tell them that you lost it. Then let them try and prove that you didn't, in fact, lose it.

Or better yet.... you can't remember the passphrase, forgot...sorry.

Kind of hard to prove whether someone remembers something or not - especially under all the stress involved in court cases and what not.



Is it necessary? (4)

zpengo (99887) | more than 13 years ago | (#301157)

While I'm all for archiving data for future historical analysis, I think it's fairly certain that IM logs, "how's it goin?" e-mails, and detailed transcripts of #40yearoldsinglebaldguys will not be very useful to historians in three hundred years. Yes, they tell about our culture and practices, and yes they might be interesting, but we don't need all of it to extrapolate those conclusions. There is simply no room to store the vast quantity of information generated on the Internet on a daily basis, and considering the fact that 99.998% of it is of little value, I think that we can safely do without it.

Things are still floating around from the old days. We have Usenet archives from the 80s, and text files from even earlier. We can learn a lot about the culture based on those. Things that grab the public consciousness tend to around. They get mirrored, printed out, saved on disk, etc.

Does there need to be a giant warehouse that contains vacuum-sealed printouts of every wise thing said on the internet?

No. No, there doesn't.

Microfilm baby... (1)

DESADE (104626) | more than 13 years ago | (#301160)

Just kidding. I seem to remember another piece on this. Basically, it came to what storage medium had the longest life. Microfilm was out as film degrades. I seem to remember CD's being ruled out as well. Apparently they don't last as long as I thought. I can't seem to remember what the preferred medium was though.

Remember delay tubes? (2)

eldurbarn (111734) | more than 13 years ago | (#301163)

Back in the old days, when all we had was wood-burning computers, one form of memory was the delay tube. Bits were pumped into one end and they took a finite time to transit the tube. They'd be fetched out the other end, amplified and cleaned up and fed back into the front end, again. Data would be read/modified as it went by.

Perhaps we can still use the same technique to solve the data archiving problem: Just broadcast all our data into space. To read it, all we need to do is invent FTL drive, pop out to the right point in time and read the data as it goes by.

I'm sure we could find other uses for the FTL to help recover the R&D investment.

your tax dollars at work (1)

scout.finch (120341) | more than 13 years ago | (#301167)

Someone should just hooky up a daisy wheel to the organic AI the CIA uses to read the world's email, and have the real Kevin Mitnick (not the DOJ's PR department's half-baked simulacrum ) stack it all nice and neat on the secret underground continent they're using as an alien petting zoo.

The answer is simple... (2)

four12 (129324) | more than 13 years ago | (#301175)

The dead mail queue on my mail server is huge. If all the sysadmin in the world were to just never clear their dead mail queue, we'd have a pretty accurate archive of the state of the Net.

2315 AD: It would appear that the entire society was obsessed with "NAKED HORNY CHEARLEEDERS WET AND WAITING FOR U!!!!!!!!!!", "online casinos", messages from some person named "bounce@" and worshipped a diety called "Viagra". No wonder they vaporized themselves.

Re:Is it necessary? (5)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 13 years ago | (#301177)

Of course the flip side of this is that it's not always possible to tell who will be considered interesting in the future. In many cases, the most interesting use of archives is to look at the work of interesting people while they were working their way up and weren't of broad enough interest to attract major attention. Nobody knew that a 25 year old patent examiner named Albert Einstein was about to become a scientific star, but because we have his personal letters we can find out what he was doing scientifically and personally.

You never know if the next great author might be posting his early, great works to some fan e-mail list because he can't get his foot in the door at a major publisher. Maybe the next great debator is getting started in flamewars on Slashdot. Maybe the next great OS designer is getting into arguments with established academics on USENET. Oh, wait, that already happened, and we can only read the argument [] because somebody though to archive it. Maybe the next great philosopher who will be mostly ignored for 100 years is already publishing his early thoughts somewhere on the web. You can't always tell what will be valuable to the future until well after the fact, so preserving as much as possible is still a really good idea.

A truly wonderful example of this kind of thing are the early works of JRR Tolkein. The early history of the Silmarillion is absolutely fascinating and a wonderful example of the development of a literary theme. That's a work that wasn't published for over 50 years after it was started, but some of the earliest drafts still exist. Because those drafts are available, it's possible to see how it developed. Will the same thing happen when authors write everything in Word and write over old versions every time they change anything? How about if they're still very careful about keeping copies of early drafts but the formats change so much that they can't be read anymore?

Historical Data has Always Been Volitile (2)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 13 years ago | (#301178)

This stuff has always been volitile. We have a fraction of the historical data we would like to have from any time period. Yes, the letters of the Medici are still around and available, similarly the corresponsdence of the major players of our time will be archived (either electronically or in hard copy. Probably both.) The letters of the common man were as often discarded in times past as e-mail is today. Some of it will not doubt still be around (just as the data on many of those eight inch disks still survives on more modern media today), but the vast majority will be lost. This is fine, especially since there is a finite amount of data that historians can analyse anyway. Generally speaking it is nearly impossible to tell what will or will not be historically sigifigant from the point of event origins anyway. I would venture to say that considering the level of literacy in our culture today, and the varied data storage mediums available, historians will have far more data from our time than current historians have from anytime before World War II.

Re:I only see (1)

don_carnage (145494) | more than 13 years ago | (#301183)

Paper holds up? Are you kidding? Paper can get wet, burn, be torn to shreads, ingested and colored on. Embossed metal would be good. (not to mention it makes a nifty Photoshop filter.)


Broadcast it to Space (2)

msheppard (150231) | more than 13 years ago | (#301184)

Broadcast everything important into space. If we ever need it again, we just zip out along the transmission wave at realitivistic speads, until we get to the bytes we want, slow down and read them, then zip back home. M@

Oh, don't worry about it... (2)

sid_vicious (157798) | more than 13 years ago | (#301187)

I wouldn't worry about it ...

Right now, the NSA is reading and cataloging all of our private e-mails -- there will be records of everything we say for generations to come!

"Grandpa, what was a EULA?"


Re:Moore law says: don't read originals, copy them (1)

bryanp (160522) | more than 13 years ago | (#301188)

The distinction is important for archivists, who might have, say, a building full of 9 track tapes to convert, a process which could take years. Just ask NASA. It's been a couple of years but I remember a story about 2 guys who do nothing but that. They spend their day prepping deteriorating 9 track tapes to be copied to their HD and then burned to CDR. These are stacks of tape from the Apollo missions mostly. Much more time goes in to prep work than actual reading because the tapes have deteriorated to the point that if they're lucky they get one chance to read the tape. It pretty much self destructs in the process (not the tape itself - the metal oxide coating).

Paper Archives (1)

J x (160849) | more than 13 years ago | (#301189)

Archival quality paper is really the safest bet for any information that can be converted to this form. I've heard countless anecdotes about the strength and resilience of paper - capable of being reconstructed even from the ashes of some fires! (believe it or not, the CIA puts it burned documents into acid to corrode the paper ashes so they cannot be recovered.)

An excellent resource to learn more.. []

Printer? (1)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 13 years ago | (#301193)

What's my printer used for again?

Come on... we still use paper now-a-days, and anything important that was on that 8incher is on a harddrive or tapedrive (otherwise it wasn't important enough to keep). There is still books of info and stuff. When we get into digital books and remove paper from society entirely... that's when to ask this question.

Re:Oh, don't worry about it... (2)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 13 years ago | (#301194)

Not to mention the Illuminati!

Every wire inside your house has the potential of recording everything you do and sending it to an illuminati communication location to be stored. Hell, they've known everything well before the United States was formed.


welcome to the new "digital" dark age (1)

Alien Perspective (171882) | more than 13 years ago | (#301197)

One reason the dark ages were "dark" because so few records of that time have survived...while earlier and later eras were (relatively) well documented.

We're now entering the new digital dark age, where all records are digital...

...and the backups are bad.

NARA looks to be on the ball (2)

SgtAaron (181674) | more than 13 years ago | (#301206)

For us Americans, anyway, our National Archives and Records Administration [] seems to be quite aware of the issues involved in storing digital data for future retrieval. They may even have some good clue factor going (a bit amazed, myself):

To do so, they are using a new computer language called eXtensible Markup Language, or XML. It is a way of marking up electronic documents with easily understood tags instead of coding dependent on what will some day be obsolete software.

Naturally, NARA's main focus is the archiving of documents that are mainly of historical significance to Americans.

Re:Some thoughts (3)

Erasmus Darwin (183180) | more than 13 years ago | (#301209)

The National Archives only accepts data in ASCII format. They view text as the lowest common denominator [...] You can understand their posistion after you sit down and think..this is our American history...

So I'm sitting down and thinking, but I still don't understand their position. I can appreciate both the importance of ASCII text and its accessibility (hell, I still use lynx to browse the web), but I can't understand why you would restrict yourself to only text.

Consider the following:

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the surface of the moon.


On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Here is a picture, in an open, documented graphics format.

There's just too much history that's more than just pure text. I can understand trying to make as much material as possible available as text, but you can't let such a decision allow you to exclude relevant materials that're more than just text.

Re:Some thoughts (1)

AnyLoveIsGoodLove (194208) | more than 13 years ago | (#301212)

The National Archives only accepts data in ASCII format. They view text as the lowest common denominator...they won't take tiff for images....You can understand their posistion after you sit down and think..this is our American history... I did document management for the government....not fun..but man do they have a lot of paper...20 million images and they were just getting started where I was...

Resident data... (1)

ZeLonewolf (197271) | more than 13 years ago | (#301213)

It seems almost impossible for things to disappear from cyberspace these days. There's an incessant number of mirrors and archive servers and the like floating around to keep just about everything.

Example: don't you hate it when you're searching your favorite search engine and you keep getting old and completely useless Usenet posts? That stuff will never disappear...

Re:Make a drive? (1)

mark_lybarger (199098) | more than 13 years ago | (#301214)

they'll have the drive building directions printed on good old fashioned paper .. .. hell, we should be storing this kind of stuff on marz ... just in case the earth is destroyed. cd-rom drive, loads of cd's and an good 'ol 486 to serve up all the pages.

print it out, put it in a box (1)

atomray (202327) | more than 13 years ago | (#301216)

and store the box somewhere safe.

5.25 inch diskettes anyone? (1)

DigitalDreg (206095) | more than 13 years ago | (#301223)

I'm running into these problems now. My ancient software collection from the mid 1980's is sitting on 5.25" floppy disks. The low density ones at that.

Modern machines don't have the drives. Older drives are worn and potentially flakey. And the media is aging and suffering from bit rot. (I've had four read errors in about 120 diskettes.) And the media hasn't been made in almost 10 years.

I'm using 'dd' to make images of the diskettes and I'm going to burn the images to CD. The copy-protected diskettes are a real problem though; my old copy program (COPYIIPC) doesn't work on newer hardware, and even if it did, it will make another floppy, not an image I can burn to diskette. Teledisk might work ...

I can't even imagine trying to do this with 8" floppies or older tape formats. Most of this data is of little worth now .. it might be interesting in a few years.

Re:Is it necessary? (3)

skoda (211470) | more than 13 years ago | (#301226)

I've been reading Stephen Ambrose's [] books the past couple of years, and based on his work, I now think that the 'whassup' emails are of value, because they will tell historians about the common man.

While the histories, news articles, and official documents of a given era are very important and informative, it is also necessary to the personal accounts from the people involved in the society at the time to help provide perspective, and to help identify biases in the 'official' accounts.

Considering how valuable even the pedestrian of documents are from e.g. 3000 BC, I imagine that today's equivalent will be of equal value to historians in the 7000 AD.
D. Fischer

It's not the media, it's the SOFTWARE. (4)

aussersterne (212916) | more than 13 years ago | (#301228)

There's a large difference between 8" floppies and CD-ROM. The installed base of CD reading mechanisms (CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, PlayStation, Dreamcast, SegaCD, Saturn, PS2, 3DO, VCD, home stereos, walkmans) is many orders of magnitude greater than the installed base of 8" floppy drives ever was.

Even two or three hundred years from now, a reasonably skilled technician or at worst a team of them will be able to dig up a CD mechanism from somewhere, fix it up and get it reading data. CD mechnisms are like Ford's Model T -- only much more common -- and let's face it, there are still a reasonable number of Model T's running around to auto shows, and there isn't nearly the historical incentive to keep a Model T running that there is to ensure that there will always be a CD-ROM reader running somewhere.

And it's likely that if most people are like I am (I value my data and my work) they will continue to migrate data to new formats as they emerge.

The bigger question isn't media, but sofware. I'm very confident we'll be able to get our files from ISO9660 discs, but I already have a bunch of WordStar and old MacWrite/MacPaint files I can't open and it's only been a decade. We'll be able to retrieve the raw data, but will be actually be able to interpret and make use of it?

P.S. I still have an old Siemens 8" floppy drive, single-sided, hard sector. About five years ago I still had an old floppy controller with an odd WD chip on it that could talk to it using OS-9. No way to talk to it with my Linux box, though...

Electronic Records (1)

spliff (225977) | more than 13 years ago | (#301236)

I work for a certain government Agency (no, not THAT one, mine's on the mundane side) and am involved in the transistion from paper-based to electronic record keeping. The transient nature of the storage media is certainly an issue, although I beleive NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) advises folks to back up disks with paper. Verifying the integrity of a record is also an issue, one that comes into play mostly when a record is referenced in Federal Courts...for more info, try NARA's website

the future will consider us all morons (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 13 years ago | (#301238)

Simply because it's only the idiots in my office that insist on printing out every single email they get. They will be enshrined for history to judge us all.

I laugh when one of them prints his email, handwrites a response onto it, and then faxes it back to the origin. I guess the jokes' on me.

Here lies one whose name was writ on electrons.

Historical value of recent archives (1)

Bug2000 (235500) | more than 13 years ago | (#301239)

It's funny how much a neglectable quantity of written archives bore such an incredible historical value until the XIXth century. Archiving had a meaning by then, not much noise on the signal. In our wazzaaaa culture though...

Re:Digital Photography (2)

arnex (238036) | more than 13 years ago | (#301240)

If you use a film camera and throw the negatives and prints in a shoe box they will last almost forever

This is true of the hundred-year-old Bradyesque B&W's you mention, but the chemistry of color snapshots taken over the last fifty years makes them substantially less stable -- something to do with the organic dyes they use. Ever wonder why that old Kodachrome snappy of Grandpa from 1965 has that awful pink tinge? It'll only get worse, until eventually it's an unrecognizeable blob.

However, the older B&W stuff will just get a little yellowish. Or "sepia" if you prefer.

Re:Deleting Archives (1)

cube farmer (240151) | more than 13 years ago | (#301241)

why not just encrypt them and archive them?

Because, unless you handed over the key upon demand, then not only would you be guilty of obstruction of justice, but also contempt of court for failing to produce documents during discovery.

Deleting Archives (2)

cube farmer (240151) | more than 13 years ago | (#301242)

If I recall correctly, many attorneys are now advising clients to proactively delete archived email and other correspondence stored electronically, so that in presumed future legal actions the discovery process won't turn up incriminating evidence in the defendant's files.

The deletion, apparently, if prescheduled on all documents doesn't consititute obstruction of justice, whereas conscious destruction of only selected material may be construed as obstruction.

Part of the problem in maintaining a useful archive into the future is storage media, but a bigger part is the attitude that we should be afraid to allow our routine communications to be stored permanently.

Oh. And by the way, IANAL.

White House Email (4)

cube farmer (240151) | more than 13 years ago | (#301243)

The analogy would be to read emails from, say, the white house in 200 years. Do you think the white house is saving their emails? You bet.

Apparently, George W. was an inveterate user of email right up until the inauguration. At that point, he sent a farewell missive to his correspondents [] , in effect saying he could no longer use email because all such correspondence would be a public record and he didn't want his private musings made public.

So, no, many important communications will not be retained, unless someone is placing a wiretap on the president's phone.

Use Outer Space for Storage (1)

NetWurkGuy (240604) | more than 13 years ago | (#301244)

Launch a probe out toward an especially empty region of space with a long lasting nuclear power source, sensitve highly directional receivers pointed toward Earth and powerful transmitters, also pointed toward Earth. Begin transmitting all data selected for long term preservation toward the probe which will then simply echo it back. Send the echoed data back to the probe along with new data. The further out the probe goes the more data is stored in the signals in transit.

Get along, little datum! (2)

TClevenger (252206) | more than 13 years ago | (#301247)

Guess I'll do what I did when I pulled the 5 1/4" drive: Grab all the old 5 1/4" diskettes and move the data to the hard drive, burn a CD and away we go. So, right before you get rid of your CD drive forever, pull all your CD's and copy the data to whatever the new great media-of-the-year is.

Oh, and avoid the "no-copy" media.

Re:White House Email (1)

Petrophile (253809) | more than 13 years ago | (#301250)

Unfortunately we won't have any more Ollie Norths, who entered all thier evil plans into the e-mail system and felt that pressing Delete was good enough protection. Oh wait, Microsoft executives did the same thing...

The idea of dictating all of your evil plans into a tape recorder has also been pretty much discredited.

Survival of records (1)

Iron Webmaster (262826) | more than 13 years ago | (#301256)

As long as google-deja survives there will be records of our time.

But what an impression!

Simple solution to digital recording (3)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 13 years ago | (#301258)

Tell my mom. She's good at remembering useless details that nobody cares about and explaining them to anyone who listens. Plus she was born before the advent of the telephone.

Re:only copied stuff is "saved" (2)

markmoss (301064) | more than 13 years ago | (#301261)

High quality paper only lasts 500 - 1000 years under the best storage conditions. (Cheap paper contains residual acid which destroys the paper in a few decades even under ideal conditions.) What we have of Roman and Greek literature, or of the Bible, is copies of copies, and sometimes not too accurate. Some messages engraved on stone have lasted over 5000 years -- but it's expensive and low capacity, and much has been destroyed by weathering, religious fanatics, and other vandals. Engrave it on gold and bury it and it will last forever -- unless it's dug up by barbarians that just melt it down...

The stamped CD's will probably outlast paper records, but are only good for large-volume publications, not for the actual records that most interest historians. CD-R/RW and similar dye-based disks, properly stored, are probably going to outlive the technology to read them, but they are less stable than good paper.

Re:Oh, don't worry about it... (2)

markmoss (301064) | more than 13 years ago | (#301262)

Of course, they'll be uncataloged and locked away in a gov't warehouse along with the Ark of the Covenant, the real investigation into the Kennedy assassination, and the records of which soldiers were deliberately exposed to atom bomb tests. 8-)

I only see (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 13 years ago | (#301266)

I only see paper as the solution. Bulky but it will hold up. But if given an option, I would like to see atomic scale writing on some sort of sheet ( metal / plastic / ... ). that should be able to hold up for a long time as long as we have atomic scale readers.

As /. has pointed out in the past. Digital storage sometimes gets lost in the sense that there are no readers ( anybody recall that NASA tapes that are in storage because nobody can find a reader ? )


spambait e-mail
my web site hip-hop news
please help me make it better

Re:Printer? (2)

onepoint (301486) | more than 13 years ago | (#301267)

Really, does inventory reports and terms of lending from 1982 mean anything of importance to the you, most likely not. But it give us insight to the thinking of those times. What we are really looking at is history, the more that is left behind the better the chances that people will not forget the mistakes we made.

Look at it from my perspective. I'm an investor, I have my charts of a stock that go back to 1981. I know by reading my chart every stall and every run up that a stock did. I plot my chart at the days value ( not adjusted for dividends ). Do you know how many times a stock stalls at certain numbers. I sure do and so does the guy who a bought the stock 15 years ago, and he's ready to unload it.

Classic example of the above is RCA (the top internet type company of the radio age) . It's high was around the mid 1930's and did not trade that high again until the late 60' early 70's. The stock had to fight all the way up and when it hit it's old lifetime high it had a lot of sellers. and the stock went down after that again.


spambait e-mail
my web site hip-hop news
please help me make it better

Re:Isn't this scary (2)

onepoint (301486) | more than 13 years ago | (#301268)

>The temporality of public records has very serious implications for our social structure. If the only record of your speeding ticket is an entry in a database, what happens when a glitch makes you a drunken sloth who doesn't pay child support. If the entry showing Bush's drug convictions get deleted, will there be no other record.

A report on 20/20 recently showed a man that was innocent but his record showed that he was a convicted murderer, what had happened was that his SS number was used, just a simple typo. The guy was not able to get any jobs that did a criminal background search. Even after they cleared it up, the information brokers did not have updated records.


spambait e-mail
my web site hip-hop news
please help me make it better

DNA anyone? (1)

drenok (304336) | more than 13 years ago | (#301273)

Does anyone know what the possiblities of encoding
it in DNA and the fossilizing it somewhat quickly?

Seems like mostly that stuff lasts quite awhile.

Legacy Databases (2)

MxTxL (307166) | more than 13 years ago | (#301277)

For our REAL important stuff, ie. the news headlines, the government records, the architectural plans, the engineering diagrams, these will be backed up into continually updating databases, as these bases come to outgrow the system they are on (and degrade) they will be moved to newer systems. The IMPORTANT STUFF will never be lost.

Our own personal e-mail correspondence, and bank records and that... well, simple answer, it won't be saved. Nor really, should it. I'm not an important person, no historian will EVER care to read the crap that flows in my inbox. Surely, the DeMedici's were worthwhile subjects to read their mail, but certainly not I... or probably anyone else except the top .001% of the population... Bill Gates, Linus, the President... those type of people.

In 10,000 years or so when people look back the 2001, they will know plenty. But only the important stuff. And that's all they would care about, afterall they would have 10,000 years of other crap to sift through without having to read the chain-mail jokes that my girlfriend sends me.

On Bitrot (2)

freeweed (309734) | more than 13 years ago | (#301278)

Already we're starting to see these 20+ year old ROMs begin to degrade. Thankfully a sizable majority of old games have been backed up, and the work continues.

Now, as a non-electronic analogy, imagine if the Mona Lisa was designed so that it could only be viewed in one gallery. Copies of it, in any form, are impossible. Now imagine said gallery has a fire. A priceless work of art is gone for all eternity, save people's memories.

Remind anyone of cps2? Thankfully that's been cracked, as who knows whether Capcom would have ever released the data to the public (as they did with some cps1 games). And the cps2 boards didn't have a life span of a few decades, more like 5 YEARS. See cps2 suicide [] for the details. Now apply this sort of copyright madness to all modern forms of art, and ask where we'll be culturally in 50 years. Scary.

The Alexandria Effect (2)

ryants (310088) | more than 13 years ago | (#301279)

In the ancient world, the library of Alexandria was the central repository of the wisdom of generations of mathematicians, philosophers, etc. Being one, central place had its advantages for centuries: if you needed to know something, there was one place to go. Unfortunately, being one, central place proved to be disastrous: when the library was destroyed, some of the knowledge contained therein was not "rediscovered" for 1500 years.

We're setting ourselves up for a similar disaster, but I'm not so worried about old floppies and tape machines. I'm much more worried about being locked in to proprietary formats (such as .doc).

Someday, there will be legislation not un-like the DMCA that will make reverse-engineering .doc illegal. Someday, Microsoft will require you to contact the "mother ship" to ensure your copy of Word is legit, or, Word will be on some central server.

Someday, Microsoft won't be there to validate your key, or serve you the latest Word applet. The source for Word will be tied up in IP lawsuits and beaurcatic bungling... or worse, your .doc will be encrypted with keys that only Microsoft had at one time and no longer does, in which case even the source is no good.

Then what?

By placing all our eggs in one collective basket/format, and having that basket be controlled by a closed-source corporation, we are heading towards an information meltdown not seen since the destruction of the library of Alexandria.

"History does not repeat itself", Mark Twain once said. "It rhymes".

Ryan T. Sammartino

Digital Photography (2)

jimlintott (317783) | more than 13 years ago | (#301282)

I am often asked about digital cameras and it is this exact problem that I like to point out. There are two problems, even if the media is stable enough to keep the data safe for hundreds of years you are relying that technology will available to read the informaion.
If you use a film camera and throw the negatives and prints in a shoe box they will last almost forever and will be viewable as long as there is light.
Even some of the earliest photography has proven to be quite stable, look at the amount of Mathew Brady work that still survives and works just fine.
Digital technology is not the answer to everything.

Re:Make a drive? (1)

Chakat (320875) | more than 13 years ago | (#301284)

Who's to say they have the directions to make a cd-rom drive. We lost the directions for making concrete for several centuries after Rome fell, what makes you think that we'll have the directions for making a cd-rom drive if our civ falls?

Each one must preserve one's own history (2)

Tricolor Paulista (323547) | more than 13 years ago | (#301285)

Well, I should think it's just a matter of not tossing things away with each change of technology.
I have all my emails, ever since 1994.

How to do it: transfer as you change. I've had several HDs, diskette formats, have even used cassete tape drives (anyone remembers TK85?). Now I have everything in CDs; when everybody starts using DVD writers (when they get cheap enough, that is :) ) I'll migrate to that, too!

If the user concerns himself with his(her) own data instead of waiting someone else invent a "perfect" way, having access to history will be no big deal. And it makes for a great backup policy as well!

Re:only copied stuff is "saved" (1)

Snar Bloot (324250) | more than 13 years ago | (#301286)

High quality paper is still the best data retention device we have. Seriously. When you think about how much easier the digital age has made it to waste reams of paper, consider that we might all have to print all our data to lengthen its life. The digital age will be the death of more trees yet.

Entropy is the real problem (1)

Invisible Agent (412805) | more than 13 years ago | (#301290)

I don't think that devising a reader for antique magnetic or optical will be the problem - I'd imagine that a future hacker would welcome the challenge of figuring out how to read a 8" floppy disk.

The problem is that all physical media fail over time. Magnetic media degrades over just a few years. CDs experience "CD rot" (if anyone has any old video disks, you know what I mean), and even media designed for durability eventually breaks down.

I think humanity has to fact that fact that over the millennia, we inevitably lose our old historical records.
At least archeologists will never be out of work. :)

Invisible Agent

Of good scraps and bad... (2)

Magumbo (414471) | more than 13 years ago | (#301291)

I agree.

Why should we even worry about archiving data for the future? Since when has humanity ever consciously decided to preserve every little bit of information? The important scraps stay, the irrelevant ones are forgotten, some stuff will stick around and make historians feel warm and fuzzy inside, some will rot. This is how it should be.

It doesn't matter what medium we store our precious little scraps of nostalgia on. If you have something you want to save you just move it to a new medium when you feel the need to do so. The storage medium is irrelevant. We don't need some new storage device that will last for 20000 years, we need people to keep what they like and forget the rest. As it stands we're pretty damn good at that.


Papyrus (1)

32855136 (415448) | more than 13 years ago | (#301292)

lasts longer than paper.

In fact, the cheap paper we make today, from wood-pulp and full of acid, degrades in a few years (leave a paper-back book on a sun-lit shelf for a bit). Archival stuff is made from rags, without chemicals.

Inscribed stone/clay, and metal are more permanent of course, but less flexible.

I know this has come up before, I'm sure I remember discussion about "programmer archaeologists" of the future - noble beings equipped with trowels and oscilloscopes, who reconstruct long-dead file formats from half-corroded CDs. Sounds like a neat job.

Simple answer: "No." The reason should scare you. (4)

theonomist (442009) | more than 13 years ago | (#301296)

Digital records are favored by our corrupt, foreign-dominated Federal tyranny for one very simple reason:

It's terrifyingly easy to alter them, or to dispose of them entirely.

This is frightening, but true: As the well-known conservative George Orwell observed in his great novel 1984, "He who controls the past controls the future." The "Party" in 1984 devoted itself to doing exactly what the Clinton regime did: They went through all historical records, altering, falsifying, modifying, deleting.

No one will ever know what the Clinton death count really was. No one will ever know what really happened. The "records" are malleable. You can trust no information that comes from the government, because it's all been "massaged" and "fixed up".

Will there be historical records? Not in any meaningful sense: There will be something that looks a lot like such material, but it will be a work of pure fiction.

Goodbye, America. We were great while we lasted.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?