I was recently trying to dig out some video footage I’d edited about 14 years ago. As windows into the past go, it was a bit upsetting.
Since hearing (and producing the film) of Jeremy Keith’s talk All Our Yesterdays in 2011, I’ve often referred back to it when contemplating the increasingly short lifespan of recent tech. Jeremy correctly predicted the huge danger in placing our cultural record into technologies and formats that have extremely short lifespans.
Examples of this are everywhere. In the last seven days, Myspace admitted they’ve ‘lost’ all their song data prior to 2015: an estimated 50 million songs. (I’m particularly mourning four of them.)
Last week, I got a message from my bank to say their app would cease to function on my five-year-old smartphone. I understand the legitimate programming decision here; but higher up the chain, the same bank have continually moved services from the branch around the corner to the app in my pocket, and now they want me to buy a new handset to facilitate their choices.
The video I was hunting for had originally been filmed on 8mm camcorder tape; later, it was copied to VHS, then transcoded through a miniDV camcorder so it could be captured on a laptop for editing. (Stay with me.) In 2005, the laptop in question had about 4GB of storage, so when finished, I backed up the final edit and deleted the raw files. I even backed it up to two different formats to ensure its longevity.
Because of course, now I had backed it up, it would be safe forever – right?
My backup formats of choice were VHS and miniDV tapes.
I read an article that made me groan this morning. The wizards of at Apple, as they have an increasingly bad habit of doing, will officially kill off 32-bit applications in the next OS X update.
Why does this matter? A huge number of so-called legacy programmes will cease to function if you update – none more beloved than Quicktime 7. Though not updated in nine years, many people have held on to this old version of the app as it unlocks a wide array of old video formats (which, only a decade ago, didn’t seem so old.)
So if you want to hold on to that professional archive, or old family videos, you’d either better get converting, or keep a 32-bit laptop around.
There was a time when data archiving was the domain of people who pored over paper tape in basements. Yet today, all of us are forced to be archivists, simply because we produce so much digital product.
Holding those old tapes – of films made with my high school friends – in my hand, I was looking down at these plastic things that represented hours and hours of work that represented days and days of production that represented years and years of friendship. Memories that I can only access via a patchwork of devices and cables.
The very real prospect of a digital dark age as a culture is scary.
But the very real prospect of a personal black hole is simply sad. If this is progress, I’m not sure how.