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The Digital Abyss

USA Today has an interesting piece running down how some average consumers are archiving their images and some of the pitfalls of digital storage:

…will future generations even have time to look through stacks of CDs containing tens or hundreds of thousands of photos, and even if they do will individual memories become less precious because there are so many?

What if disk drives fail or software formats change, rendering photos unreadable by tomorrow’s computers? Will CDs even work? Think of those reels of 8 mm home movies with no projectors for viewing them.

“If you look at your parents’ or grandparents’ belongings, you can find old negatives, … and negatives are still reproducible,” said Greg Miele, aBethesda,Md., father of two, ages 9 and 17. “Yet if you have a hard drive fail on your computer, it’s all over. It’s a huge risk to maintain your photographs in a digital medium.”

After two years of shooting digital, Heidi Grunwald has started returning to film, overwhelmed by the prospect of cataloging all the photos too easily snapped.

Our digital imaging roundtable tackled just such an issue here.

I’m hard pressed to believe that many consumers will follow Heidi Grunwald back to the analog days, but ignoring her frustrations isn’t wise either.

Still, while a lot of time is spent worrying about preventing photos from succumbing to catastrophic failures – like a hard drive crash – I’d be worried about a more predictable challenge: ensuring that the computer and viewing platforms of the future can display your images.

I tend to be optimistic about how that will play out… but it’s an optimism grounded in my naïve certitude that technological progress will benefit humanity, not on any evidence that there’s been significant progress tackling this issue.