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COMPUTING SCIENCE

Avoiding a Digital Dark Age

Data longevity depends on both the storage medium and the ability to decipher the information

Kurt D. Bollacker

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The general problem of data preservation is twofold. The first matter is preservation of the data itself: The physical media on which data are written must be preserved, and this media must continue to accurately hold the data that are entrusted to it. This problem is the same for analog and digital media, but unless we are careful, digital media can be more fragile.

The second part of the equation is the comprehensibility of the data. Even if the storage medium survives perfectly, it will be of no use unless we can read and understand the data on it. With most analog technologies such as photographic prints and paper text documents, one can look directly at the medium to access the information. With all digital media, a machine and software are required to read and translate the data into a human-observable and comprehensible form. If the machine or software is lost, the data are likely to be unavailable or, effectively, lost as well.





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