No, I’m not talking about the dark days of the digital world when Windows 3.1 ruled the PC world. I am referring to a phenomenon that may occur when people will regret, or at least reconsider the value of, moving to an entirely digital world. While reading an article on SlashDot about the viability of burned CDs I was reminded of a problem that has concerned me since my days as a History student at UGA.
Historians rely on documents to reconstruct the past. I had one history professor say that historians, “dabble in documents.” The problem that I see is forming involves the volatility of data stored in digital formats. In the past two years I have had to replace four hard drives. I am fairly diligent in keeping backups of all my important data, but with the simultaneous crashing of two hard drives on different computers I ended up losing about three months worth of photos, email, and other documents. Not a huge loss, but on a larger scale the impact on future historians could be catastrophic. Couple that with the trend toward digital photography, email, instant messaging, etc. it’s clear that much of the material historians use to analyze history are becoming recycled electrons. Hard copies are seldom if ever made of these transient means of communication, and without these the jobs of historians and genealogists will be much more difficult.
I am concerned that unless more people become aware of this issue the digital age may be as difficult for future generations to understand as the dark ages are today.