Store your data (life history) online? Growing threat of its deletion and loss

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https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210...ng-deleted

INTRO: How would you adjust your efforts to preserve digital data that belongs to you – emails, text messages, photos and documents – if you knew it would soon get wiped in a series of devastating electrical storms?

That’s the future catastrophe imagined by Susan Donovan, a high school teacher and science fiction writer based in New York. In her self-published story New York Hypogeographies, she describes a future in which vast amounts of data get deleted thanks to electrical disturbances in the year 2250.

In the years afterwards, archaeologists comb through ruined city apartments looking for artefacts from the past – the early 2000s. “I was thinking about, ‘How would it change people going through an event where all of your digital stuff is just gone?’” she says.

In her story, the catastrophic data loss is not a world-ending event. But it is a hugely disruptive one. And it prompts a change in how people preserve important data. The storms bring a renaissance of printing, Donovan writes. But people are also left wondering how to store things that can’t be printed – augmented reality games, for instance.

Data has never been completely safe from obliteration. Just consider the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria – its very destruction is possibly the only reason you’ve heard about it. Digital data does not disappear in huge conflagrations, but rather with a single click or the silent, insidious degradation of storage media over time.

Today, we’re becoming accustomed to such deletions. There are lots of examples – the MySpace profiles that famously vanished in 2019. Or the many Google services that have shut down over the years. And then there are the online data storage companies that have offered to keep people’s data safe for them. Ironically, they have sometimes ended up earmarking it for deletion.

In other cases, these services actually keep running for long periods. But users might lose their login details. Or forget, even, that they had an account in the first place. They’ll probably never find the data stored there again, like they might find a shoebox of old letters in the attic.

Donovan’s interest in the ephemerality of digital data stems from her personal experiences. She studied maths at university and has copies of her handwritten notes. “There’s a point when I started taking digital notes and I can’t find them,” she says with a laugh... (MORE)
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