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Subject: Digital storage material and time capsules

Digital storage material and time capsules

From: Will Jeffers <wjeffers>
Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2000
Jerry Shiner <keepsafe [at] interlog__com> writes

>I'm still waiting for a flood of comments on the best way to store
>digital data in a time capsule (see Conservation DistList Instance:
>13:37 Monday, January 3, 2000). Not a thousand-year capsule,
>something practical: say twenty-five, or fifty years. For my part
>I'm certain that CD format players will be available (although
>antique), and that the stored data will remain available as long as
>the software program can still be executed. Tell me if I'm wrong...

Perhaps an answer to your question can be found in Paul Conway's
"paper", entitled Preservation in the Digital World

Preservation in the Digital World, in its own words, "suggests a
framework for applying fundamental preservation concepts, derived
from the best present practices of paper and film, to the world of
digital image documents so that the highest level of responsible
preservation planning, management, and action can continue."  I
won't attempt to paraphrase or oversimplify its thesis, and suggest
that you check it out yourself.  I will, however, quote a pertinent

   "During the twentieth century, the permanence, durability, and
    stamina of newer recording media have continued to decline, with
    the exception of microfilm (Sebera 1990). Magnetic tape may be
    unreadable just thirty years after manufacture (Van Bogart 1995,
    p. 11). The newest recording medium--optical disk--may indeed
    have a longer life than the digital recording surfaces that have
    gone before. It is likely, however, that today's optical storage
    media may long outlast the life of the computer system that
    created the information in the first place. This is the ultimate
    irony of recorded history. In order to achieve the kind of
    information density that is common today, we must depend on
    machines that rapidly reach obsolescence to create information
    and then make it readable and intelligible (Dollar 1992)."

Preservation in the Digital World was subsequently cited in an April
9, 1999 New Yorker essay by Alexander Stille entitled Overload.
Stille pondered the spiral of information and information-based
technologies, noting that while the pace of technological
advancement is reflected by the rate at which previous technologies
become obsolete, there is a concurrent trend in diminishing
stability: an inverse relationship holds between the newness of any
given technology and the archival permanence of its information.

Having skirted this issue myself in an essay entitled "Super Eight
is Enough" <URL:>, I
can offer the following advice in good conscience.  While storage
media may be archivally stable for the length of time you propose,
the availability of the requisite playback technology may prove to
be the weakest link in your proposed service.  Your certainty in its
availability may prove over-optimistic.

Will Jeffers
Collections Care Specialist
Department of Scientific Research
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:45
                 Distributed: Friday, February 25, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-13-45-017
Received on Tuesday, 22 February, 2000

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