An alarming front-page story in today’s New York Times bemoans the fleeting lifespan of digital data. The focus is on storage media that wear out (CD-Rs come in for special criticism) and the danger that todays’s major data formats will become obsolete. Someone new to this subject might conclude from the Times piece that they should return to the old routine of printing and physically archiving every photo, document, or piece of correspondence.
But as Technology Review has explained in articles published over the last two years, our computer files are not about to melt into air. One simple (albeit annoyingly time-consuming) way to make sure files are always accessible is to periodically migrate them from old media to new ones. And as TR columnist Simson Garfinkel pointed out last year, formats such as the JPEG image compression standard and the PDF document standard are so well-documented and universally accepted that it’s inconceivable that software in the year 2030 won’t be able to to work with them.
In short, panic is not in order. Sure, you should back up your data so that it’s not all on one breakdown-prone or easily-stolen device. And yes, you should try to move files from your old computer to your new one before the old one becomes inoperable. But a new flood of paper printouts is the last thing our forests, or our creaky, overstuffed file cabinets, need.
Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks
One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.
Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?
Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.
How to befriend a crow
I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.
Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not
Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.