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Losing information

I had a summer student come to me this week and ask me to fix back on the installation instructions for a CD that the sellotape holding them on had yellowed and fallen off from…a hint perhaps of its age! Although a 10 year old book isn’t that old in the grand scheme of things…

The CD itself was long gone, but the installation instructions remained.

They were for:

M.S. Word for Windows 2.0

Wordperfect 5.1 for MS-DOS

Wordperfect 6.1 for Windows

Unsurprisingly, I made an executive decision not to keep those instructions, but I thought about them when reading this story from the BBC.

How many people still have information stored on floppy discs (the ‘hard’ floppy discs, not the floppy-floppies, as I remember from my far-distant youth…) but don’t have a machine that can now read them? It’s one of the only good points about my creaky, 7 year old home pc, that I can actually put these things into it and access the information.

One of the things on my eternal to-do list is to save the data to my pc, then burn it onto a CC…but how long will a CD last me?

Should I actually really be uploading the data to a secure website?

What if that site dies, taking my info with it?

What format should it be in?

How long will it be safe / readable in that format?

Technology is changing so fast now. I know of someone who managed a while ago to pick up an interesting device: a microfilm reader built into a suitcase. Allegedly for reading schematics for military vehicles and fixing them in the field (my personal fantasy of it being a spy-case, for reading top-secret-type things was crushed), it was the height of innovative portable technology at the time, and now is just an interesting, outdated lump of metal, glass and plastic. Will the Blackberries (or Brambles, as I’ve heard them called) and iPhones of today be the car-boot hunters treasures of tomorrow?

You know, I really don’t envy the National Archives their task!


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