In Storing 1’s and 0’s, the Question Is $

LISTEN. Do you hear it? The bits are dying.

The digital revolution has spawned billions upon billions of gigabytes of data, from the vast electronic archives of government and business to the humblest photo on a home PC. And the trove is growing — the International Data Corporation, a technology research and advisory firm, estimates that by 2011 the digital universe of ones and zeros will be 10 times the size it was in 2006.

But the downside is that much of this data is ephemeral, and society is headed toward a kind of digital Alzheimer’s. What’s on those old floppies stuck in a desk drawer? Can anything be read off that ancient mainframe’s tape drive? Will today’s hard disk be tomorrow’s white elephant?

Data is “the natural resource for the Internet age,” said Francine Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, a national center for high-performance computing resources. But, she added, “digital data is enormously fragile.” It can degrade as it is stored, copied and transferred between hard drives across data networks. The storage systems might not be around or accessible in the future — it is like putting precious information on eight-track tapes.

Full story in the New York Times.


For all their qualities, electrons can seem awfully feeble when compared with a good old-fashioned book. “With the right kind of paper and the right kind of stewardship,” Dr. Berman said, “you can keep a book for 100 years or more.” The interface is as simple as it gets: open the book and look at the page.

At the same time, a second National Science Foundation-supported effort is finding ways to address the cost of saving digital memories. Dr. Berman leads this two-year task force with Brian Lavoie, a research scientist at the Online Computer Library Center, a nonprofit organization near Columbus, Ohio, that helps more than 60,000 libraries around the world find, share and preserve materials.

What goes out on the podcast feed is not what we would archive. I have higher quality AIFF and WAV files on a seemingly Cylon-free computer that I would prefer for archives usage. Eventually I could possibly deposit copies of episodes with Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville as well as the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University. That would be up to me negotiating such as well as finding a suitable medium to make deposit in.

As for scripts, we rarely have extant copies. Frequently there are hand-written corrections to them as well as my ad-libbing at various points. I certainly have barely enough resources to pull off an episode each week let alone do transcription. There is a reel-to-reel recorder sitting in storage in Cleveland that, if we had the funds to ship such, we could at least take the source files and convert such back to analog.

For now we have the risk of a hard drive crash. That is not a good risk to take. Unfortunately a lack of particular resources ties our hands in terms of carrying out archiving.
Stephen Kellat, Host, LISTen