Technology dead ends

By John Dvorak  |  Posted 2004-07-13 Print this article Print

"> People back up their photos mostly onto CDs and DVDs, and they do it redundantly, moving forward from technology to technology. You back up on CD-ROM, then you move the CD-ROMs to DVD-ROMs, and then on to whatever format is next, leaving behind more and more backups. If one system fails, youve got multiple redundancy; nobody ever throws these discs out, because they take up very little space.

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Still, its easy to get tricked into a dead end that becomes a dead medium such as RCAs SelectaVision videodisc system, which used a vinyl recording–like technique to encode video. The number of odd VCR formats that came and went is astonishing, especially with pro gear. And lets not forget the 8-track tape player. But the CD/DVD formats look stable on into the future, with so much gear that it is highly unlikely they will become dead media before the year 2200. And if they do die, you can be certain that all the data will be moved forward onto something better.

The last vestiges of photo-loss fear come from the silver-halide mavens, who talk about the 150-year lifespan of their prints, and how digital is somehow more delicate. This is nonsense. First of all, for the past 30 years of film photography, most people have shot color, which has dubious longevity. And the lifetime of a digital file, if you maintain it on fresh media and move it onto new media as improvements are made, is essentially infinite. How can you do this with a silver-halide print without scanning and digitizing it?

That said, I do think that many of our memories locked in photos will be lost to time, but not as a result of deterioration. It will be because of the sheer enormity of the photo load on humankind. Cameras on phones. Moblogs. Picture storage sites. Sixty million new digital cameras sold this year alone. Endless images taken by everyone. Duplicates, and duplicates of duplicates! The number of digital images will be in the trillions in no time. That is how they will be lost.

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John C. Dvorak is a contributing editor of PC Magazine, for which he has been writing two columns, including the popular Inside Track, since 1986. Dvorak has won eight national awards from the Computer Press Association, including Best Columnist and Best Column. Dvorak's work appears in several magazines and newspapers, including Boardwatch, Computer Shopper, and MicroTimes. He is the author of several books on computing including the popular Dvorak's Guide to Telecommunications. His radio show, 'Real Computing,' can be heard on National Public Radio. He is also the host of TechTV's 'Silicon Spin.'

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