The Digital Ice Age

In this article, Brad Reagan gives many examples where the use of electronic data begins to cause problem, in a preservation perspective. The causes can be a new software that is not fully compatible with previous data models, new physical formats (unable to play old formats), too much raw information, etc. For the moment, free projects like the Internet Archive or the Free Archive (a.o.) are trying to cope with this problem.

Although the dangers of a “digital blackout” really exist, I think the author forgets one important aspect of information from the past: we already lost a lot of it. What is left is what time left us, often with some damages. It survived time, taking many different forms and paths, different storage procedures, different media, different locations, etc.

Instead of trying to store everything, maybe we should look at storing the most relevant information only. But now the question would be: how to know what is relevant and what is not? I vaguely feel that one can also add a notion of time: the e-mails I receive about a future party or a new product are not worth for more than 1 or 2 years although electronic exchanges that led to the discovery of siRNA, e.g., are much more important.