After reading a New York Times article about something called data rot, I’ve been thinking about the contrast between digital information and analog information. Data rot, according to author David Pogue, is caused when information stored on various media (tapes, CDs, and so on) disappears due to degradation of the media itself. Weather, chemicals, and mishandling can damage the media so that the information held on it is no longer retrievable. Another aspect of data rot is the common difficulty in moving data from one medium to another when the first medium becomes obsolete or undesirable. I have encountered this problem myself when I moved from 5.25″ floppy disks to the 3.5″ variety, and then from the floppies to hard drives and Zip disks, then to CDs and DVDs. I’m not sure how much information I might have lost during these transitions. In contrast, I have moved my books and other printed material around with me for 40 years or so, through 14 moves. As far as I know, I have not lost one page ( or even one word) of information in all that time.
I keep a daily journal. Some of it is handwritten on paper. Most of it is in digital format via a word processing application. The digital portion is easy to update and revise. It’s a handy format for finding stuff. I can search for names, for places, and for events with ease. Not so for the handwritten portion. I could build an index of the paper journal, but that would require additional work and would be a really complicated affair. I’ve thought about printing my journal to ensure its survival, but then I’d have to find a place to store the thousands of pages. And what if I decide to revise an entry in the digital version? The digital form would then be different than the printed form. How would I keep track of the changes? I could re-print the revised information. It’s not likely that I would be so thorough as to synchronize information in both formats, so I can imagine that the information would diverge more and more as time went on. So what? Would anyone ever notice, or even care?
Printed matter is not nearly as easily transported, revised, or researched as digital stuff. But it sure is a lot more durable, and much more accessible. You don’t need machinery or electricity to read it.
I think I’ll print my digital journal right now.