Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Wade Roush

Data Panic

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…

  • November 10, 2004

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.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print Subscription.
  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.