Monday, March 29, 2010

Died a Digital

As my eldest jumped into the car this evening and put out his finger to change the radio station from France Inter to Fun Radio, I said DON'T TOUCH! I was listening to a discussion on the temporary properties of digital photos. Their supports often don't last more than 4-5 years, supports such as CDRoms, USB keys, computer hard drives.

This is something of a blow to us lazy types who, once something is done, consider it done and dusted, out of sight out of mind, saved for posterity. But no, it is not. It's quite likely to disappear in quite a short time leaving you with a support supporting nothing, a void where once a recorded you cavorted about, drink in hand, friends to hand grinning and laughing and evidence of fun in every pixel.

What to do? Well, the answer, until someone comes up with a solution to the problem, is to regularly save your photos onto a new support. Can you imagine the hassle? I have difficulty backing up my ordinary files. I'm supposed to have bought an external hard drive and a new USB key, but keep forgetting/putting off the purchase. Imagine having to buy a new support every 4 years or so and then saving ALL your ever-increasing photos onto the new disk.

Would you remember? Would you stagger the backup so that every year you back up the last four year's worth of piccies? Imagine the organisation needed. I'm a tad chaotic and I can see I'm never in a million years going to be able to save my digital photos until I'm dead and beyond. Unless some bright spark comes up with a new invention - burning onto a glass structure or something.

I did a wee bit of research for you to see if anyone had an upcoming new technology to save the day. I found a few interesting sites on the subject of the issues surrounding photo storage. Here is one on 10 ways to save your photos, from a gadget website which advises you to save your photos to a new support on a regular basis. Yawn. Here's another on why digital photos distintegrate in the first place. The website gives some good tips on how to store your photos. They all tend to avoid trusting third party websites which offer online storage because you never know if they'll go bust.

It's all a bit of a blow, isn't it? Just when you thought that digital photos were all easy, labour-saving, and there forever, suddenly it takes effort to keep your memories digitally uncorrupted. At some point soon I should really get that external hard drive. Anyway, I can't say I wasn't warned. Roight?


  1. I knew that being old fashioned and getting my favourite photos printed would come in useful!

  2. Memory sticks are now so cheap just keep the ones you want on them as a back up.

  3. Actually there are two problems.
    1. Hardware failing.
    2. Format becoming obsolete.
    As far as 1 is concerned the usual rule of thumb is to have three independant copies. One copy should be with with a friend.

    All hardware fails. About the most reliable is a disk drive but I have had one fail after a month.

    The format becoming obsolute is more pernicious. Pictures from an old camera may not be supported by the next cameras software or the next operating system. Converting to a neutral format like DNG is probably best.

    As most photographs ar digitally printed these days there is a substantial chance that they will degrade within a few years.

    It's not a happy subject.


  4. WM - my mother still uses a standard camera despite having a digital one too. At least we'll have some memories intact!

    Johnny - unfortunately memory sticks don't last so you'll have to keep changing them.

    Nick - you're right, it's not a happy subject. We've been conned into believing that digital is the way to go and in fact it just plugs into the have it now/disposable age. Loads of piccies now, but you'll lose most of them later.

    As no one has an attention span of more than 2 minutes these days, this could result in collective forgetting on a huge scale with no backup to remembering.

  5. It's not just photos, all kinds of documents become obsolete.
    All that is needed is for support for a particular format to be withdrawn in subsequent versions of the software, never mind companies going out of business.

    JPG and PNG are pretty safe but the camera raw formats might only be convertable to something else for a short time. Maybe as short as 5 years.


  6. if 10,000 years will do, how about cuneiform? It isn't as cumbersome as XML and guaranteed to last longer that English (if you use the preferred medium - clay tablets!).

  7. Mike, does it do colour? :)

  8. The tables lasted but the encoding was lost:

    The cuneiform writing system was in use for more than 30 centuries, as the world's first system through several stages of evolution, from the 34th century BC down to the 1st century AD.[6] It was completely replaced by alphabetic writing in the course of the Roman era and has left behind no descendant systems in continued use. For this reason, it had to be deciphered from scratch in 19th century Assyriology. Successful completion of decipherment is dated to 1857.

    So just another example of the format becoming obsolete.


  9. I wouldn't mind if certain formats became obsolete, like bitchy reality tv.

  10. Put me down as a bit of a sceptic on this one. There are so many zillions of web sites that haven't been updated since HTML 1.0 that if this were a severe danger we'd see failed images all over the place. As it goes, I see them very occasionally and I'm a MAJOR surfer.

  11. expat - Don't be a skeptic. Your observation has nothing to do with what is being discussed.

    Images on websites are almost entirely JPG, GIF or PNG. Almost all browsers can display all of those formats under all circumstances. The exception being IE6 which has trouble with PNG. So it would be rare to find an image that didn't render correctly.



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