Soon after my retirement years ago, I scanned all of my family photos and those of my wife’s family, restored their contrast, burned them onto CDs, and gave copies to each of my two sons. I thought their children and generations in the future would someday treasure them. I even included an index of who the people in the photos were.
I recently came across a stack of them, neatly labeled and in plastic boxes, but the CDs have already turned yellow and may not even play.
I had been warned digital media quickly goes out of date. I even had examples of my own. Big reels of magnetic tape of old Jean Shepherd programs were moldering in my attic with nothing to play them on. Boxes of later cassette tapes have nothing that can play them. Why did I think CDs would be any different?
CDs were replaced with DVDs, but DVD players would still play CDs. My old Hewlett-Packard computer even recorded on special DVDs that I could burn a visible title on the surface. It sort of worked, but mostly didn’t.
My wife’s latest computer, a Chromebook, does not even have a DVD drive, and this appears to be the future. Now, personal data is stored on thumb drives, and I have transferred some of the old photos to these. A single thumb drive (Amazon sells them as large as 512 GB) can now store my family’s entire history with hundreds of photos, including my wife’s family history going back to mid-19th century Japan, videos, all on a device so tiny, it is bound to get lost. I cannot keep track of it myself. I bend over, it falls out of my pocket, and my entire family history is lost.
Today, many people advise storing important data on the cloud. But how long will those companies be around? I suspect even Google will someday get out of the cloud business, sell their holdings to someone else, who will themselves go out of business or charge exorbitant rates to continue to store the data. Sounds improbable, but Microsoft got out of the blog hosting business, and I ended up here on WordPress (which has been much better, I should add).
There is no good answer. Media needs to get bigger and simpler, not smaller and more complex. Remember those old birthday cards with a record strip? Run your thumbnail across it and a squeaky voice would say “Happy birthday!”
The ancients, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, had the right idea. If it is important, carve it onto monumental stonework. Anything else is trivia. We do that today with gravestones.