The impermanence of data (that matters)

One thing that springs up periodically is how older electronic data becomes harder to access.

Apple font pack disk from the mid 90s

Whether its floppy disks that are no longer readable or optical disks which have become corroded through chemical reaction over time electronic data is generally impermanent.

I lost a substantial amount of the posts on this blog two years ago when the server I used over at Yahoo! Small Business hosting went into meltdown 90 per cent of my blogging output between December 2006 and January 2008 disappeared. I managed to recover 10 per cent of the content from the Google cache of my blog.

However it isn’t only digital artifacts that are at risk. I was going through bags of old papers and found my old P60s some of which could no longer be read since they were printed on thermal paper and my first payslip which was barely readable.

my first proper pay slip

This was from my first full-time job cleaning and repairing equipment that was rented out to building contractors including lawn mowers, concrete mixers and Makita power drills.

You can also see paper go yellow from the acid used in its manufacture as well as fade from the carbon paper print.

I had obviously put it away to keep it for posterity, but I decided to keep it in the cloud as I figure that it will last longer that way now.

The problem with this is often the data we don’t want to keep stays like embarrassing pictures on Facebook or a drunken rant on a Usenet forum, whereas the stuff we want to keep too often fades away.