If you want it to survive, print it out!

The Google VP Vint Cerf has been warning of the dangers of the loss of digital material as newer programs become unable to read older files and as digital material is corrupted.


Piles of digitised material – from blogs, tweets, pictures and videos, to official documents such as court rulings and emails – may be lost forever because the programs needed to view them will become defunct, Google’s vice-president has warned.

Humanity’s first steps into the digital world could be lost to future historians, Vint Cerf told the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Jose, California, warning that we faced a “forgotten generation, or even a forgotten century” through what he called “bit rot”, where old computer files become useless junk.

Cerf called for the development of “digital vellum” to preserve old software and hardware so that out-of-date files could be recovered no matter how old they are.

“When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history,” he said.

“We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future,” he added.

It’s my birthday today and it comes as a sobering thought as I look around my study, that the only things in here that are older than myself are around 20 books which were published and printed in the first half of the 20th century. There is not a single artefact that is older than me. There is one book here printed towards the end of the 19th century.

If you want any writings or images or presentations to have a chance of surviving 100 years, PRINT IT OUT. That may not be enough but it stands a better chance on paper than as a digital file. (I have a large granite rock – a 2m tall “obelisk” – in my garden and possibly the surest way to leave my mark would be to carve something into it. It will have to be symbols since the alphabet may be long forgotten in 10,000 years).


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