The Digital Dark Age

The Digital Dark Age, an article in the Fairfax Digital by John Huxley, details the problems we may face with storing our information on media such as CDROMs/DVDROMs, only it’s from a different angle – not the problem with “digital rot” or the breaking down/physical deterioration of CD/DVDs, but rather with our descendants not being able to read the information.

Excerpts from the article:

It is 2045, he suggests, and his grandchildren are exploring the attic of his old house when they come across a CD-ROM and a letter, which explains that the disk contains a document that provides directions to obtaining the family fortune. The children are excited. “But they’ve never seen a CD before – except in old movies – and, even if they found a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document?”

In the here and now, almost everyone, from the humblest to the highest and mightiest, is already confronting similar problems. Families contemplate how best to preserve old snapshots, which may have been copied and restored, then transferred to video and, more recently again, to disk.

Something for genealogists to ponder when thinking about how to pass information down to their descendants. These quotes jumped out at me :

Only belatedly was US census data rescued from digital tapes that became obsolete faster than expected.
….
To those who believe in the immortality of new media files, Rothenberg offers a suitably new-age adage: “Digital information lasts forever – or five years, whichever comes first.”

When your thinking about how to pass down your genealogy information, keep in mind that hopefully your descendants will keep transferring the data to newer media. The problem arises when the media “skips” generations.

One suggestion might be to buy a cheap laser printer and print out all of your genealogy information and give out multiple copies to people in different lines in your family, and as always, photos, if made properly, can last several generations.

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