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Record Keeping in a Digital World

April 5, 2010 8:32:59.558

Nick Carr makes a good point about digital records and fragility:

The problem is magnified by the speed with which old digital media and recording techniques, including devices and software, are replaced by new ones. It's further magnified by the fact that even modest damage to a digital recording can render that recording useless (as anyone who has scratched a CD or DVD knows). In contrast, damage to an analog recording - a scratch in a vinyl record, a torn page in a book - may be troublesome and annoying, but it rarely renders the recording useless. You can still listen to a scratched record, and you can still read a book with a missing page. Analog recordings are generally more robust than digital ones. As Bollacker explains, history reveals a clear and continuing trend: "new media types tend to have shorter lifespans than older ones, and digital types have shorter lifespans than analog ones." The lifespan of a stone tablet was measured in centuries or millennia; the lifespan of a magnetic tape or a hard drive is measured in years or, if you're very lucky, decades.

Carr adds a worry about cloud storage overtaking local storage, and a resulting "storage monoculture" resulting what amounts to a single point of failure. I'm not sure we'll get there, but it is possible. For things like music and books, we still like to have local copies, because we'll listen (or read) over and over. Video is something else again - beyond a few favorites, most people don't want to re-watch something they've seen already. Storage is cheap (and getting cheaper) though, so I'm not sure that the cloud monculture issue will ever truly arise.

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posted by James Robertson

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