The Other Side of Digital Preservation


We often grumble that digital preservation is risky, and that modern storage technologies and file formats quickly become outdated destroying the record of our past. What we don't appear to appreciate is how much more data we are able to preserve, thanks to digital technologies.

Today I wanted to write to a colleague about an experiment I witnessed in a Kienzle service shop, where a technician would debug problems with magnetic stripe cards by throwing metal filings on them. It tried to find the year I worked there, but failed: I think this happened in the late 70s, and at that point I wasn't a regular computer user. The only records I have from that time are my passport, and (maybe somewhere) my school reports.

Move forward a few years, and enter the digital era. From that point onward, I have listings of the software I wrote, reports I handed-in for University courses, and copies of all my email and USENET news articles. Even if many go missing (a couple of years ago I had to patch Framework III by hand to avoid a divide by zero error, brought by the speed of modern processors), I think what will remain will be a lot more than what I would have without the benefit of digital storage technologies.

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Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2005 11:32 am

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