Monday, April 30, 2012

OpEd: The world is losing its ability to reconstruct history

Bit rot: The world is losing its ability to reconstruct history:
PICTURE yourself as a historian in 2035, trying to make sense of this year’s American election campaign. Many of the websites and blogs now abuzz with news and comment will have long since perished. Data stored electronically decays. Many floppy disks from the early digital age are already unreadable. If you are lucky, copies of campaign material, and of e-mails and other materials (including declassified official documents), will be available in public libraries.

But will you be able to read them? Already, NASA has lost data from some of its earliest missions to the moon because the machines used to read the tapes were scrapped and cannot be rebuilt. A wise librarian will wish to keep in working order a few antique computers that can read such ancient technologies as CDs and USB thumb-drives. But even that may not be enough. Computer files are not worth anything without software to open them.

One way round that is to print everything out. If you use durable acid-free paper, this will reach at least the level of accessibility of medieval manuscripts, handwritten on vellum. But printouts of digital material are a second-best solution. They risk losing the metadata that make documents interesting: e-mails make most sense as threads, not as stacks of paper. Only in digitised form can data be sifted and crunched.

Source: The Economist

No comments:

Post a Comment