Understanding Digital Product Shelf Life

If you’ve ever wondered why the disappearing paper books causes some people concern, it’s possible that you may not understand that digital information has a shelf life. It might seem as if digital information is going to be there forever. But, as you save images, books, reports and other information, you have to remember that technology is growing at an astounding rate that will make the technology you’re reading this on right now obsolete some day. What happens to this data when the technology to access it is gone?

* History Could Be Lost Forever – You probably already have the problem at home with undeveloped film, or cameras you can no longer buy film for. As technology becomes more advanced and improves faster, the problem will grow faster. Will today’s digital images that you’re saving in the cloud still be there in five years, ten years or 100 years?

* We Are in the Digital “Dark Ages” – The truth is, according to many scientists we are literally in the digital dark ages in terms of what types of devices we’ll create in the future. If they are right, it will make it impossible to access the data we are creating today in the future.

* Improvements Also Means Destruction – As technology becomes better, faster, and smaller, it means that the old ways are destroyed in terms of being able to access them. For example, can you read a floppy disk now? Will you be able to read what’s on a jump drive in five years? What about historians 1000 years from now?

* It’s Already Happening – A good example of this problem is happening at The National Archives. They have historical data saved on paper up until a certain point. But during the Vietnam era, we started saving things electronically on tapes. Right now all that information is lost because we no longer have the technology to extract the data.

* It’s a Balancing Act – As you move forward with digital product creation, consider whether the product you create is important enough to save forever. Is it historically important? If so, you may need to figure out how to save it in a form that is accessible long term, such as by printing it out.

The fact is, we need to figure out how to save information for the future that is accessible in the future. But, how do we do that when we have no idea what will be available later? It makes sense that we should keep some of each technology now to enable us to be able to access information in the future. But, already you likely have old Word Perfect files you can’t get to due to not being able to run the old software on your new computer.

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