Friday, February 13, 2015

Digital Nostalgia

A day after Facebook introduced a way to 'memorialize' an account (ie freeze a dead person's account), digital guru Vint Cerf has highlighted the issue of digital data becoming unreadable in the future, and therefore we will lose a sliver of history.

Personally I think Mr Cerf is being somewhat disingenuous and is also advancing the reasons his company endlessly seeks to run roughshod over privacy and copyright.

There are already archive initiatives in place such as the Wayback Machine. His point about emails replacing letters and being far more difficult to archive is a better made point. But the conclusion of this argument is that companies like Google and Yahoo! (who have over a million of my emails and ten thousand images on their servers) should open source this data upon someone's death, if the deceased has willed it.

This does bring to mind what is going to happen to all those TV programmes which exist on film, tape and now in digital form. Video content is big, and therefore expensive to store digitally. And even though the cost of storage has declined precipitously, the improvements in quality of video has meant that the size of files has increased commensurately (next it's 4K and then 8K).

In the past TV was made to be disposable. (One could argue that the majority of current TV should be disposed of, such is the quality.) Stories like the discovery of lost Dr Who episodes in a Nigerian vault and of ancient reels of nitrate film in an attic abound.

The British Library famously holds a copy of everything published in the UK, but there is no equivalent for TV - the BFI and YouTube probably come closest.

The reality is that storing an hour long HD master on cloud storage costs around £1 per month, so the temptation is to buy a cheap hard drive from the local computer store and use this instead. And this is where Vince has it right.

In future we won't be transposing from 8mm home movies to tape, it will be from redundant hard drives with weird ports and power cables that are no longer produced.