. . . decided to share this Times
article covering digitizing/saving -
are such current topics for
many of us
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2004 12:34 PM
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Even Digital Memories Can Fade
> By KATIE
> brimming over
> The nation's 115 million home computers are
> with personal treasures - millions of photographs, music
> every genre, college papers, the great American novel and,course, mountains of e-mail messages.
> out how to preserve these electronic
> Yet no one has figured
> materials for the next decade, much
less for the ages. Like
> junk e-mail, the problem of digital archiving,
> straightforward, confounds even the experts. going to take a lot of work," said Peter Hite, president of
> "To save a digital file for, let's say, a hundred years is
Management Services, a consulting firm in Houston.
> "Whereas to take a
traditional photograph and just put it
> in a shoe box doesn't take any
work." Already, half of all
> photographs are taken by digital cameras,
with most of the
> shots never leaving a personal computer's hard drive.
preservation in general that the Library of Congress has
> So dire and complex is the challenge of digital
> spent the last
several years forming committees and issuing
> reports on the state of the
nation's preparedness for
> digital preservation. Gallagher, director for information technology services
> at the Library
of Congress, said the library, faced with "a
> deluge of digital
information," had embarked on a
> multiyear, multimillion-dollar project,
with an eye toward
> creating uniform standards for preserving digital
> so that it can be read in the future regardless of thehardware or software being used. The assumption is that
> machines and
software formats in use now will become
> obsolete sooner rather than
> "It is a global problem for the biggest governments and
> biggest corporations all the way down to individuals," saidKen Thibodeau, director for the electronic records archives
> program at
the National Archives and Records
> Administration. the meantime, individual PC owners struggle in private.
> Desk drawers and
den closets are filled with obsolete
> computers, stacks of Zip disks and
3½-inch diskettes, even
> the larger 5¼-inch floppy disks from the
> of a clear solution, experts recommend that people
> their materials, which were once on vinyl, film and paper,to CD's and other backup formats.
> also lose their integrity.
> But backup mechanisms can
> Magnetic tape, CD's and hard drives are far
> The life span of data on a CD recorded with a CD
> for instance, could be as little as five years if it isexposed to extremes in humidity or temperature.
> scratched, Mr. Hite said, it can become
> And if a CD is
> unusable. Unlike, say, faded but
readable ink on paper, the
> instant a digital file becomes corrupted, or
> degrade, it is indecipherable. accumulating digital information faster than we can
> handle, and moving
into new platforms faster than we can
> handle," said Jeffrey Rutenbeck,
director for the Media
> Studies Program at the University of Denver.
> Professional archivists and librarians have the
> to duplicate materials in other formats and the
> to retrieve materials trapped in obsolete computers.
> consumers are seldom so well equipped. So they are forceddevise their own stop-gap measures, most of them
> unwieldy, inconvenient
and decidedly low-tech.
> officer at a nonprofit
> Philip Cohen, the communications
> foundation in San Francisco, is what archivists
> classic "migrator." Since he was in elementary school,
> Cohen, 33, has been using a computer for his school work,and nearly all of his correspondence has been in e-mail
> since college.
> Now Mr. Cohen's three home computers are filled with
> of thousands of photos, songs, video clips andcorrespondence.
> Over the years, Mr. Cohen, who moonlights as a
> fix-it man, has continually transferred important files
> ever newer computers and storage formats like CD's and"I'll just keep moving forward with the stuff I'm
> sentimental about," he
> Yet Mr. Cohen said he had noticed that some of his
> especially the rewritable variety, are already beginning
> degrade. "About a year and a half ago they started todeteriorate, and become unreadable," he said.
> migration works only if the data can be
> And of course,
> found, and with ever more
capacious hard drives, even that
> can be a problem. "Some people are saying digital data will disappear not by
destroyed but by being lost," Dr. Rutenbeck said.
> "It's one thing to
find the photo album of your trip to
> Hawaii 20 years ago. But what if
those photos are all
> sitting in a subdirectory in your computer?"
> For some PC users, old machines have become the
> of the bin under the bed. This solution, which experts
> the museum approach to archiving, means keeping obsoleteequipment around the house.
> Forrester Research, for example,
> Simon Yates, an analyst at
> keeps his old PC in the back of a
closet underneath a box.
> The machine contains everything in his life
from the day he
> married in 1997 to the day he bought his new computer
> 2002. If he wanted to retrieve anything from the old PC,Yates said, it would require a great deal of wiring and
> rewiring. "I'd
have to reconfigure my entire office just to
> get it to boot up," he
> Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Global Business
> which specializes in long-range planning, says that adecade or two from now, the museum approach might be the
> most feasible
> "As long as you keep your data files somewhat
> you'll be able to go to the equivalent of Kinko's wherethey'll have every ancient computer available," said Mr.
> Schwartz, whose
company has worked with the Library of
> Congress on its preservation
> "It'll be like Ye Olde Antique Computer Shoppe,"
> Schwartz said. "There's going to be a whole industry ofpeople who will have shops of old machines, like the
> original Mac Plus."
> Until that approach becomes commercially viable,
> there is the printout method. a graduate student at the University of
> Melanie Ho, 25,
> California, Los Angeles, has
been using computers since
> elementary school. She creates her own Web
sites and she
> spends much of her day online. prints important documents and stores a backup set
> Yet she
> at her parents' house
100 miles away.
> be dead
> "As much as a lot of people think print will
> because of computers," she said, "I actually think
> something about the tangibility of paper that feels morecomforting."
> vocal when it
> Proponents of paper archiving grow especially
> comes to preserving photographs. If stored
> conventional color photographs printed from negatives
> last as long as 75 years without fading. Newer photographicpapers can last up to 200 years.
> for digital photos saved on a
> There is no such certainty
> hard drive. formats are likely to become obsolete and future
> software "probably will
not recognize some aspects of that
> format," Mr. Thibodeau said. "It may
still be a picture,
> but there might be things in it where, for instance,
> colors are different." Archives, like those at the
> The experts at the National
> Library of Congress, are working to develop
> among digital computer files to eliminate dependence
> specific hardware or software. uniformity, Mr. Thibodeau pointed out,
> One format that has
> is the Web, where it often makes
no difference which
> browser is being used. many consumers, the Web has become a popular
> Indeed, for
> archiving method,
especially when it comes to photos.
> Shutterfly.com and Ofoto .com have
hundreds of millions of
> photographs on their computers. Shutterfly keeps
> set of each photo sent to the site. backups are stored somewhere in California "off the
> fault line," said
David Bagshaw, chief executive of
> Shutterfly. suppose a Web-based business like Shutterfly goes out
> of business?
> Mr. Bagshaw said he preferred to look on the bright
> but offered this bit of comfort: "No matter what thebusiness circumstances, we'll always make people's images
> available to
> in Muncie,
> Constant mobility can be another issue.
> Stephen Quinn,
> who teaches journalism at Ball State University
> Ind., moves frequently because of his work. He prefers
> keep the amount of paper in his life to a minimum, andmakes printouts.
> his desk that
> Dr. Quinn has a box in the bottom drawer of
> contains an eclectic set of storage disks dating back
> the early 1980's, when he started out on an Amstradunpublishable"
> All of Dr. Quinn's poetry ("unpublished and
> he says) and other writings are on those various
> devices, along with his daily diaries. point, he wants to gather the material as a
> At some
> keepsake for his children,
but he has no way to read the
> files he put on the Amstrad disks more
than 20 years ago.
> He has searched unsuccessfully for an Amstrad
> to read
> "I have a drawer filled with disks and no machinery
> it with," Dr. Quinn said. basic problem of digital life. Whatever
> That is becoming a
> solution people might use, it is
sure to be temporary.
> said Dr. Rutenbeck,
> "We will always be playing catch up,"
> who is working at pruning his own digital past,
> old hard drives and stacks of old Zip disks. a box of everything I did in first grade."
> "It feels really good to do," he said, "just like I didn't
> 2004 The New York Times Company