Everything dies, including information | MIT Technology Review

Quite a bit, according to experts. For one thing, what we think is permanent isn’t. Digital storage systems can become unreadable within three to five years. Librarians and archivists race to copy everything into newer formats. But entropy is always there, waiting in the wings. Joseph Janes, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Information, said: “Our professions and people often try to extend normal life as much as possible through a variety of techniques, but it still holding back the flow.”

To complicate matters further, archivists are currently grappling with an unprecedented amount of information. In the past, materials were scarce and storage space was limited. “Now we have the opposite problem,” says Janes. “Everything is always recorded.”

In principle, that could be right a historic mistake. For centuries, countless people have had no appropriate culture, gender or socioeconomic class for their knowledge or work to be discovered, appreciated, or preserved. But the sheer scale of the digital world now poses a unique challenge. According to estimates last year from market research firm IDC, the amount of data that companies, governments and individuals will generate over the next few years will be double the total amount of digital data created since then. at the beginning of the computing age.

Entire schools within several universities are working to find better approaches to saving data under their umbrella. For example, the Data and Service Center for Humanities at the University of Basel, has been growing software platform called Knora to not only store a wide variety of data from humanities work, but also to ensure that people in the future can read and use them. However, the process has gone awry.

“We can’t save everything…but there’s no reason not to do what we can.”

Andrea Ogier

“You make educated guesss and hope for the best, but there are datasets that are lost because of failure,” said Andrea Ogier, assistant dean and director of data services at the University Libraries of Virginia Tech. Who knew they would be useful.

There are never enough people or money to do all the work needed — and formats are always changing and multiplying. “How do we best allocate resources to preserve things? Because the budget is just too big,” says Janes. “In some cases, that means everything is saved or archived but just sits there, uncataloged and unprocessed, and therefore, cannot be found or accessed.” In some cases, archivists ended up rejecting new collections.

The formats used to store data themselves are impermanent. NASA has collected about 170 data tapes of lunar dust, collected during the Apollo era. When researchers started using the tapes in the mid-2000s, they couldn’t find anyone with the IBM 729 Mark 5 from the 1960s needed to read them. With help, the team eventually found one with a rough shape in the warehouse of the Australian Computer Museum. Volunteers helped refurbish the machine.

Software also has an expiration date. Ogier recalls trying to examine an old Quattro Pro spreadsheet file only to find no available software that could read the file.

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