Data Preservation in the Digital Age

Last updated: 2024-04-23

All posts: Index

Recently, I tried to play a computer game developed in 1994. Thirty years ago. Something from my childhood. As a tech-savvy person, I knew that it wouldn't run on a modern 64-bit Windows machine without gimmickry. That's not the reason for this blog post, however; it got me thinking.

Thirty years is not that much. Generally speaking, it's not even half of a human lifespan. Not to mention the scale of human evolution.

I think it's somewhat wild that we can read hundreds, even thousands, of years old books without any problems, but running a software from thirty years ago isn't straightforward at all. From a hundred years from now, it's probably not possible to run a 130-year-old software binary.

Everything is being digitalized, books, music, art...our culture. There's a recent article stating that no one buys books anymore. Printed books anyway. People prefer to listen and to read e-books; they prefer listening to music via Spotify over physical records. Many bands don't even release physical records anymore. Book authors are moving to platforms like Substack. It's all good, and to be honest, I don't have anything against that, but it's still worrisome.

Of course, it's not like nobody isn't thinking of this. For source code, we have things like Artic Vault by Github which is meant to safely preserve source code for a very, very long time. For digital art, at least Google has been working on it, and probably some others too. However, I'm still very happy to see when an artist makes a physical painting or writes a physical book. Books and paintings are universal, and they can be consumed by humans without electricity.

Next time when you're writing a book or thinking of doing a painting, consider doing them "in the old-fashioned way". And when it comes to books, it's easy to do both. For all the software developers out there, prefer open file formats and document them well. That way, the future generations can at least implement software easily to read those files.

Maybe, just maybe, we should slow down and contemplate our actions. While I have nothing against digitalization per se, I believe that not everything needs to be digitized. To me, a digitalized product lacks the same sense of value as a physical one, at least personally. I'm certain I'm not alone in feeling this way. Furthermore, in this era of information overload, wouldn't it be refreshing to pause occasionally and enjoy a physical book or visit a gallery to appreciate some paintings?

What do you think? Discuss on Hacker News.

Copyright © Niko Rosvall