Friday, March 27, 2009

Should You Worry About Data Rot?

Yes. See this article by Times technology columnist David Pogue, which contains an edited transcript of an interview with Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

According to Spicer, “the lifespan of DVDs varies from 5 to 100 years, according to testing … hard disks only last five years, generally.” He recommends that “every five or ten years” digital content should be migrated to a different format. He adds:

Making lots of backups is good advice, and on different formats, different places; consider paper as an archival medium. Some paper we have has lasted thousands of years. If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.

The Ten Commandments were engraved on stone. These tablets are no longer extant (we’re still looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant), but since their content was migrated to new formats—from leather and papyrus scrolls to vellum and paper codices—they have been preserved.

Image: Detail of Rembrandt’s “Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law” (1659)