Dear Popular Mechanics, (A *SHORT* Rebuttal to The Digital Ice Age)
by M. David Peterson
The documents of our time are being recorded as bits and bytes with no guarantee of future readability. As technologies change, we may find our files frozen in forgotten formats. Will an entire era of human history be lost?
The above lead-in to the above linked story is about as close to the actual content of the story as we are to the last "Ice Age" this planet encountered. Subtle changes in the processing software is one thing. But the idea of a hard drive crashing, an online email company going out of business, or the magnetic disk our data is stored on losing its "memory" is quite another. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are stored in "bits and bytes" and everything to do with the storage medium they are stored on as well as how many places they are stored.
Today we have hackers crackin' some of the most tightly guarded cryptographic file formats -- formats that were specifically designed to keep people from viewing their contents unless they have "permission" to do so -- in a matter of hours, days, weeks, sometimes months, and in rare cases, a few years after these formats were first introduced. So the notion of no guarantee of future readability is a flat-out fabrication of the imagination.
DRM is one thing. DRM affects us in the here and now, so it's an issue worth arguing. But in regards to we may find our files frozen in forgotten formats.?
If they're forgotten, it will have been for a reason -- for example: NO ONE USED THEM.
Will an entire era of human history be lost?
It's always possible. But it wouldn't be because of forgotten formats. Natural disaster, the medium in which data is recorded, or simple human error are all plausible scenario's. But attempting to scare people into believing that "in the future it's possible that people may not be able to read our 4th grade "What I Did Last Summer?" report, or even our doctoral thesis on the lifespan of the average floppy disk" because "The documents of our time are being recorded as bits and bytes" is nothing less than FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), pure and simple.
The chance of a natural disaster, the storage medium our data is stored on giving up the ghost, or a fly-by-night online email company? These we SHOULD fear.
"The documents of our time are being recorded as bits and bytes with no guarantee of future readability.
This we SHOULD NOT fear!
Thanks for reading.
In the long lifecycle, we know that lots of knowledge does get lost and the medium may not make a difference. The recovery of Egyptian hieroglyphics is an example. On the other hand, the library of Alexandria is gone forever.
|M. David Peterson