Most of us have a box or book of old photographs somewhere — precious memories of times and people we hold dear.
Thanks to the paper on which those photos are printed — and the ease with which paper can be handed down — those memories are intact.
But what about future generations? If we copy our digital photographs, video or sound clips onto CDs or DVDs, will our heirs even have the equipment necessary to read them?
It’s a question that deserves careful consideration, especially since many of us today are spending countless hours amassing irreplaceable memories and, for the first time, entrusting those memories to various forms of media that are not only fragile but can also quickly become obsolete.
That’s why if you want to pass down the memories that you’re capturing with your digital equipment, it’s vital that you develop a strategy for preserving them — and to know the pros and cons of the various storage media available today.
CDs and DVDs
CDs and DVDs are the first types of storage people think about when they want to copy some files and stash them for future generations. Unfortunately, there are a couple of serious problems with this approach. First, the longevity of writable CD and DVD disks varies greatly. Some early writable CD disks that were supposed to last for 40 years or more have been known to become completely unreadable after only a couple of years in storage. And today’s bargain-priced writable CDs and DVDs are generally not sold on the basis of how long they’ll last.
Responding to the demand for more dependable, “archival” quality disks, however, some firms — including Verbatim, Memorex, and Fuji Film — have created special archival-quality writable media. These disks have a data surface that optimizes both the recording performance and the longevity of the disks themselves. They’re more expensive, as you might imagine, but if you’re using your disks to preserve memories, a little added cost should not be your primary consideration.
Archival or not, what might be of more concern is the rapid pace of progress in technology — and the possibility that the CDs and DVDs you create for posterity today won’t even be readable by the computer equipment in use a generation from now. A look at recent history tells the story. Twenty years ago, the five-and-a-half-inch floppy drive was ubiquitous. Today, floppy drive readers of that size are impossible to find at most electronics retailers. If you had some precious files stored on a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive, you’d have to go to great lengths today to find a computer that could read the disk.
Hard, flash drives
If the digital memories you want to hand down consume lots and lots of storage space, hard drives might be your best choice. The way to go here would be to purchase an external hard drive — available now in sizes up to 1.5 terabytes — that can be connected to the computer with a USB cable. Update the drive with your latest files regularly, but otherwise keep the drive in storage to preserve its life expectancy.
The concern with hard drives is that they’re relatively fragile. A hard drive “crash” — which refers to the drive’s read/write heads bumping into the quickly rotating magnetic platters within the drive — can render all of the data on a drive unreadable in a matter of seconds. At that point, only an expensive repair can salvage the data — if it’s salvageable at all.