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Disappearing Art

We're losing our movies:

The report's authors state the data explosion could turn into digital movie extinction, unless the studios push the development of storage standards and data management practices that will guarantee long-term access of their content.

As the report points out, even if a 100-year black box were invented that "read data reliably without introducing any errors, required no maintenance and offered sufficient bit density at an affordable price," there would be nobody alive capable of repairing it if that box were to fail at 99 years. In the real world of data management, digital assets are stored on media with longevities much less than 100 years, vulnerable to temperature changes, humidity and static electricity. It can be misidentified, inadequately indexed and difficult to track.

Also, whereas a well-preserved 35mm negative has traditionally contained enough information to fulfill any requirement for ancillary markets, there's a question in the minds of some industry observers about whether the quality of masters archived in digital formats will be sufficient for quality duplication. In an age when home movie systems can often provide a better experience than some commercial theaters, that's not an unimportant concern.

This is a problem that cryonicists face as well. How do you preserve the data that defines your life and identity over an indefinite period of time? No static media can be relied on--they all deteriorate eventually. I know that I have lots of floppies from the eighties that are probably unreadable now.

Data is going to have to be stored dynamically, and continually moved to new systems as the technology evolves. It will also have to be stored holographically, and distributed. Fortunately, the costs of digital data storage are plunging, with terabyte drives now available for the cost of multi-megabytes twenty years ago, and that trend is likely to continue as we get into molecular storage.


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Eric J wrote:

This is old-media thinking (Atoms, not bits.) With duplication and storage costs approaching zero there's no reason to have single archival copies. Once the film makers figure out that they may as well sell copies at the same quality level as the Masters (though perhaps at a premium) there will be multiple master copies of everything. Anything worth saving will have an audience willing to perform the upgrade to the newest format, or pay to have it done for them.

And I think in a generation or two, there will be a cultural shift, as we discover that the ability to keep everything around permanently does not equal a requirement to do so, and that what gets lost or edited out defines a culture as much as what gets kept.

ech wrote:

LockMart got a contract from the National Archives to work out methods of preserving electronic documents over long periods of time. It's needed as more and more of the records of the government are emails, etc.

rjschwarz wrote:

Why think in 99 year solutions when a newer better storage site appears it won't be that hard to copy over to the new format or item. Who would simply skip a dozen generations and then suddenly realize that the world has moved on? That's somewhat illogical or I'm misunderstanding.

Jonathan wrote:

Data is going to have to be stored dynamically, and continually moved to new systems as the technology evolves.

I think that this is the lesson for both institutions and individuals. My old software on 5-1/4" floppies is now unreadable at reasonable cost. However, the software and data that I long ago copied to hard drives, and then copied to newer hard drives whenever I upgraded, are still accessible.

Of course it may be that when I die all of my stored data, including digital photographs, will be lost, because no one will maintain it any more. Probably not something to worry about, though a few of the photos might have some value to somebody. Meanwhile my grandfather's glass plates and 35mm negatives from the 1920s and 1930s remain easily readable and will probably continue to be readable for years to come.

In response to some of the other comments here, I think it's wise to archive more data than you think anyone will ever need. You never know what will be interesting in the future. As for failing to keep updates current: people sometimes forget, are distracted or make mistakes, and some storage technologies are much more reliable under imperfect conditions than are others. If I had copied the code on those 5-1/4" floppies to microfilm or good-quality paper it would still be easily readable.

McGehee wrote:

Hmmm. So much of what I value is what I have on my website, easily browsed by anyone and -- if they find it valuable -- copied and applied as an idea, a turn of phrase, or a punchline.

If I'm good at what I'm doing, the best of what I do won't be lost.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 8, 2008 5:45 AM.

Quad Cores For Everyone! was the previous entry in this blog.

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