Still hanging on to your dusty old tape collection?  If you haven’t digitized your cassettes yet, you might want to get started. CBS News contributor David Pogue wrote an interesting piece on data rot, which is what happens when you have information that’s either too decayed to use, or relies on technology that no longer exists.

If you’ve moved all your important data to the digital realm, don’t act all smug just yet. Digital media isn’t the indestructible storage option we thought it was. Today we have more ways to store information than ever before — and that’s not always a good thing. According to Pogue, new formats pop up faster than ever, which means they also go obsolete much more quickly. What good is a digital document if no one makes the software that reads it anymore? This means we have to choose carefully how we save our important files, and remember to update them to newer formats (that is, once every few years, for the rest of your life).

Even fairly stable formats like TIFF files can fall victim to the relatively frail storage objects that house them. Pogue quotes Dag Spicer, senior curator at the Computer History Museum, who said:

“A hard drive lasts about five years…The low range of CDs’ and DVDs’ longevity is five years. So the basic lesson is: Look after your own data and make sure that you take steps to keep it moving onto new formats about once every ten years.”

Where to begin? Your school’s collection of VHS tapes of science experiments and school plays might be a good place to start. Pogue tells the sad tale of filmmaker Lydia Robertson, who has never even seen a film she made in high school because the machines that play it aren’t around anymore. I too made a movie in high school, shot on VHS tape. How long until data rot claims the VCR? In the case of my film, not soon enough. For everyone else, it’s probably time to convert those videos to Quicktime. -BILL FERRIS

Bye, Tech: Dealing With Data Rot via CBS News

Related stuff:

Digitize! Bring Back Those Cassettes

Box your important files online

Send really big files over the Internet

Get 1GB of storage for free with OpenDrive

Photo credit: pollas on Flickr.

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