How ethereal is digital information?

I began asking myself that when I stumbled across a related question being asked in /.. In that case, we’re talking about a parent that wants to know the best (safest) way to keep his one year old son’s (digital) photos and videos for some twenty years. This in turn, reminded me of something that happen after a trip to Northern Europe, several years ago. I was never a big fan of video, but the same could not be said of photos. We brought back spectacular ones, specially from Scandinavian fiords. Mind you, these were plain old analogue “paper” photos. Back then (late 90’s), digital cameras were still overpriced toys, and I did not had one—but I did have a scanner. And so, I happily started to digitalize all those photographs, saving them in some proprietary format which was the default for the program I was using, which name I can no longer remember. What I do remember, is thinking along the lines of: “yeah this program or some version of it will always be available, so no biggie, I’ll always be able to see my photos (and share them, etc…)”. I did not know what I was doing. Eventually I came to realize that all that effort was a big waste: I no longer have that program (heck, I no longer use Windows, for that matter…), and the photos, well, I think I glanced them this one time, and could not look at them because of the image format issue. And if you take out this last point, that’s exactly what I’d do with the paper photos: glance them occasionally and remember some good times.

The real funny thing is that, at least to my knowledge, nobody cares on how to preserve analogue photos. I mean, we all know, intuitively that they’ll degrade, get yellow, get spots—and then we digitally store them and everything is fine again! If only things were that easy…

Format issues aside, digital technology is not used because it’s perennial, it’s used because information transmission is much much easier this way. And it’s precisely the boom in information transmission made possible by the advent of broadband internet that caused two things: 1) a vast global consensus in favour of open standards, and 2) the best possible way to store something, is to use collective memory (from /. thread):

1. Rename to “xxx 18yr old bj strip”
2. Upload to P2P protocol of choice.
Let it proliferate around the internet and retrieve it when necessary.

The other solutions are RAIDs, storage providers, replication schemas, etc, etc… in sum, nothing that can implemented straightforwardly. The comments also address issues like CD/DVD durability, evolution of DVD players (Blueray, whatever comes next…), and so on… In face of all this, it still amazes me how some folks still think that digitial information should be treated as physical property. Assholes they must be… but that’s another story…

One response to “How ethereal is digital information?

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