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Re: [ARSCLIST] Hard disk drives and DAT

From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad


 - this is a long rant, and philosophical, too, so you might just as well 
leave it, if you are not so inclined. You were warned.

David Seubert, Andy Kolovos and several others have said all the good and 
sadly correct things. However we must all realize what a shift in paradigm 
this is.

For centuries, well perhaps millenia, we have been accustomed to protecting 
physical items, and if we did that we would still have our cake. Restoration 
was previously a discipline when it was more like repair of function and 
which destroyed all information that we were not aware of at the time. So 
many of the items we have stored are mere shells of what they were, almost 
like a taxidermically treated bird: only the outside has any connection to 
the original, if we are lucky also some bones are preserved, because they 
could stand the abuse of time and because we can perceive them with unaided 
senses (or we can dig deeper by means of instruments). Things had to have 
inherent qualities to survive without attention.

Re-directing our efforts to creating effigies of what we have "alive" today 
may not be so bad - everybody can understand that a format change may be 
necessary, the so-called secondary source. But the fact that this new format 
will not be permanent or at least will not require attention for a long time 
if we choose wisely, that really goes against the grain.

Material that is born digital will always retain its quality as long as 
transparent storage is used. However the fact that we cannot choose to invest 
(in high quality and durability) to preserve it but we have to have 
continuous expenditure (migration, refresh, call it what you like) is still 
against the grain. We simply do not have sufficient trust that the future 
will preserve what we have been working with. At least I do not. And that 
degrades our endeavours - we have no idea whether our efforts will be worth 
our while in, say, mere 20 years time. Media and systems we have known (until 
the cheapo digital came along) have been able to survive on their own for 
longer than that.

I do not see a future that is able to establish a coordinated effort to store 
what is born digital for the benefit of future users. There will be family 
trust owned repositories that will survive, much like big country estates 
survive, because there are craftsmen and gardeners, such families will be 
sufficiently focussed and can afford it. For the rest of us there will only 
be what remains after governments have given up maintaining our history. We 
will be much more manageable as populations.

While live real-time culture proliferates due to the digital revolution I 
think that much too little attention has been given to the erosion ("bit by 
bit", as I once wrote in the IASA Journal) of our history. We shall all 
become "instant on", but forgotten the next day. Nobody will know or be able 
to document if we indeed had our 15 minutes of fame. I really think we have 
lost our chance to preserve history by not requesting - louder and louder - 
that we are given systems that will be able to maintain their usefulness 
unattended (!) for a minimum of 100 years. That would have permitted 
investment - so beloved by funders - rather than mere expenditure.

I am very much looking forward to reading Douglas Hofstadter's new book "I am 
a Strange Loop", which according to an interview with him in New Scientist 
(10 March 2007) may bring me to terms with our accelerating loss of eternity; 
for 'eternity' read 'historical perspective'.

In the long term my specialization, which is the retrieval of sounds from 
analogue recordings, using knowledge about how they were created in the first 
place, will be like knowing about historical enbalming and equally useful. 
And that goes for quite a number of people on this list. 

Can anybody cheer me up?

Kind regards,


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