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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
October 13, 2003

Into The Digital Dark Age?

Creating A Write-Only Memory Technology

We've all heard the extolling of the Information Age we live in, and how storage capacity is all the time getting vaster, cheaper, and comes with all the electronic benefits of easy updating, instant transmission, and ready access from anywhere. All very true. But in the rush to digitize and computerize, it's suddenly being realized that the rapid obsoleting of storage technologies with little thought given to the longer-term future is already resulting in enormous volumes of all of that meticulously recorded information being impossible to retrieve.

The Library Journal, Vol. 124, Issue 2, June 20, 2003, carries an article by Stewart Brand entitled "Escaping the Digital Dark Age," pp.46 - 49, that highlights the problem. Reproduced online at Jeff Rense's news site.

Even today, what has been lost is considerable. All of those files that were carefully recorded and catalogued on 5ΒΌ" floppy disks only a few years ago are now unreadable. Not only have the drives disappeared, but so have the programs, operating systems, and machines that wrote the files (WordStar in CP/M on a Kaypro?). The same is true of Landsat satellite data from the 1960s and early 1970s amassed on countless reels of now-unreadable magnetic tape. All of the early pioneer computer work at labs such as MIT Artificial Intelligence is similarly lost, no matter how carefully it was recorded.

In this connection, it's ominous to read in the Dutch magazine PC Active of a quality test conducted on 30 brands of CD-Rs that covered well-known and lesser-known manufacturers. Only 20 months after being recorded, a number of disks were completely unreadable and others only partially readable. It's generally assumed that a CD-R will be good for at least 10 years. Some manufacturers have claimed reliability for up to a century. Slashdot has a thread on this topic at slashdot.org/articles/03/08/24/1253248.shtml?tid=126&tid=137&tid=198

What's needed is the electronic counterpart of microfilm or acid-free paper. Maybe those people who carved their most important records into slabs of stone or engraved them onto precious metals weren't so dumb and primitive after all.

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