Article by Erik Sherman: “Everything dies: people, machines, civilizations. Perhaps we can find some solace in knowing that all the meaningful things we’ve learned along the way will survive. But even knowledge has a life span. Documents fade. Art goes missing. Entire libraries and collections can face quick and unexpected destruction.
Surely, we’re at a stage technologically where we might devise ways to make knowledge available and accessible forever. After all, the density of data storage is already incomprehensibly high. In the ever-growing museum of the internet, one can move smoothly from images from the James Webb Space Telescope through diagrams explaining Pythagoras’s philosophy on the music of the spheres to a YouTube tutorial on blues guitar soloing. What more could you want?
Quite a bit, according to the experts. For one thing, what we think is permanent isn’t. Digital storage systems can become unreadable in as little as three to five years. Librarians and archivists race to copy things over to newer formats. But entropy is always there, waiting in the wings. “Our professions and our people often try to extend the normal life span as far as possible through a variety of techniques, but it’s still holding back the tide,” says Joseph Janes, an associate professor at the University of Washington Information School.
To complicate matters, archivists are now grappling with an unprecedented deluge of information. In the past, materials were scarce and storage space limited. “Now we have the opposite problem,” Janes says. “Everything is being recorded all the time.”…(More)”.