Banter About Backups

I found this story, or at least the comments anyways, kind of amusing. The discussion stems from the idea of the people behind the Internet Archive making an effort to create physical backups of 10 million books by way of printing out copies to keep in giant climate-controlled storage containers. And what amused me was what I think can be distilled to the old school vs. new school crowds arguing about the reliability of digital files as a medium over the long term…

Some argue the new age angle and proclaim that digital files are here to stay, and that this is a tremendous waste of time and efforts when mass storage in the terabytes can exist in personal computers for less than a hundred bucks.

Others argue that while not only do technologies evolve and replace outdated formats, the concern also needs to be considered for a world where suddenly technology itself becomes obsolete – i.e. your e-readers will do you little good without electricity, but this paper still reads just fine.

What I think is lost on the new crowd is the idea that this is essentially a backup of a backup – a failsafe for the miniscule chance that over time the luxuries to various scales which we’ve grown accustomed to may eventually dissipate, either by force or simply by time. They’re not suggesting to get rid of our digital copies and go back to paper, but redundancies in data backup are never a bad thing! Like most, I could certainly stand to do a lot better at this myself – I have some of my original writing files backed up online from over the years, but I still stand the chance of losing a lot … and that’s just if this flash drive that I always carry around with me one day goes kaput!

Take, for example, the very first “book” that I wrote for my 8th grade English class back in 1993. I don’t actually have a digital copy of that thing anymore because I wrote it with a word processor called WordStar, which ran on the old Apple II clone that was my first computer growing up. Not only does the app no longer exist, but the computer probably got thrown away and I highly doubt that I could even find the 5¼” floppy that it was saved on, anyways!

But my paper copy still reads just fine…

So yeah – that was only 18 years ago, and the true archive that they’re talking about creating is intended to persist over dozens or even hundreds of years. I can count on two hands the number of storage mediums that have faded away even in my own lifetime, so it’s silly to think that Blu-Ray discs, even with their massive 50 GB storage capacities, will still be accessible 50 years from now. 15 years ago 100 MB zip disks were all the rage, but I think mine died out while I even still had the drive!

I think I need to go make some more backups.

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