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Does Digital Media Threaten Our History? 1 August 2001 Edition
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With the advent of CDR and CDRW drives, floppy disks have been rendered virtually redundant -- in fact I see that some vendors in the USA are now offering the floppy drive as an option rather than standard equipment (let's hope those PCs can boot from their CD drive if something goes wrong!)

So the death of the 1.44MB floppy is probably just a year or so away and it will soon join the ranks of the 5.25" and 8" floppy disks that came before it.

In fact, one of the most striking things about the digital revolution we've experienced over the past 15-20 years is the pace at which storage formats have become outdated.

Hands up all those who remember vinyl records -- or (gasp!) even 8-track tape cartridges?

What about the once ubiquitous compact audio cassette tape? Even these are on the way out -- having first been relegated to the Walkman market where MiniDisk and memory-stick based MP3 players are already becoming the preferred option for many consumers.

Even the good old CD is under threat from Super-CD and DVD formats -- driven as much by the recording industry's need to introduce viable copy-protection as anything else.

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    But hang on a minute are we perhaps running the risk of losing important parts of our history as we continue jumping to newer, ever-better methods of storing our data?

    I have books that are over 100 years old on my shelves and they're every bit as legible and useful today as they were when first printed -- but I also have 8" floppy disks on which I stored data just 15 years ago and now there's just no way I can read them.

    Likewise I have the full collection of Beatles albums -- but they're on vinyl so they won't play on my stereo or 3-in-1 unit :-(

    So what's going to happen to the stuff I've currently got stored on 1.44MB floppies or on my Zip-disks?

    And, thinking just four or five years further down the track -- what about the stuff I've got on CD/CDR/CDRW? My Kodak Gold CDR disks are supposedly able to store data for up to 100 years -- but where on earth am I going to find a CDROM drive in 2101?

    Constantly converting this information to new media as we keep switching and changing is an onerous task -- and one which will likely discourage many people from doing so.

    The worrying thing is that it means that we're probably going to lose a huge amount of really valuable and important historical information as a result of this digital revolution.

    In a hundred year's time, will people look back in sorrow at the big hole which is already forming in our digital records? I hope not.


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