Dark Ages alert for digital memories
'Print pictures or risk losing them'
by Sarah Knapton
Published 14 February 2015
Feb. 13: Google's vice-president has warned Internet users to print out treasured photographs or risk losing them.
Vint Cerf, the Internet pioneer, said it was time to start preserving the vast quantities of digital data that are produced before they are lost forever.
Warning that the 21st century could become a second "Dark Ages" because so much data are now kept in digital format, he said that future generations would struggle to understand our society because technology is advancing so quickly that old files will be inaccessible.
Speaking at a conference in San Jose, California, Cerf likened the problem to the Dark Ages, the period in Britain between the 5th and 8th centuries where little is known, following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
"If we don't find a solution, our 21st century will be an information black hole. Future generations will wonder about us but they will have very great difficulty knowing about us," he said.
"We think about digitising things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don't understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised.
"We stand to lose a lot of our history. If you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives which is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people's tweets, all of the world wide web, then if you wanted to see what was on the Web in 1994 you'd have trouble doing that. A lot of the stuff disappears. We don't want our digital lives to fade away."
Cerf said there was a huge problem with the ability to preserve and run software over long periods of time. He said he felt a "great burden" to find a way to create digital formats which can still be accessed in thousands of years.
He is recommending the creation of a system which will not only store a digital format but preserve details of the software and operating system needed to access it, so it can be recreated in the future.
In the meantime, he recommended printing out important documents. "If there are pictures that you really, really care about, creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally."
Cerf said it was unclear what would be the most important data of our generation so it was important to preserve as much as possible. "Historians will tell you that sometimes documents, transactions, images... may turn out to have an importance which is not understood for hundreds of years. So failure to preserve them will cause us to lose our perspective."
The Daily Telegraph