Thursday, May 03, 2007

Information age?

Book of Kells
Originally uploaded by psd.
Around the start of the year, a number of bloggers picked up on PC World's decision to stop selling floppy disks (for example The Death of the Floppy Disk). It led some to speculate about the transitory nature of digital information. Way back in February of last year I exchanged some comments with Antonius Pius about the durability of books compared to digital media (Digital scholarship). It seems ironic that we call this the Information Age yet we may leave very little behind that historians of the future will be able to access!

I was reminded of this recently as I read an article titled It's the end of your data as you know it. A couple of thiongs leapt out at me from this report. The first is the statement:
"This year marks a turning point in the digital world, IDC argued in a recent white paper: for the first time, the amount of information created — around 260 exabytes — will surpass the storage capacity available."
I was not sure what this meant (and wasn't motivated enough to read the white paper) but it seemed to me that there has always been more information out there than there is capacity to record. Perhaps the dawn of the digital age just gave us the temporary illusion that somehow we could capture and keep it all. What ever it means, 260 exabytes is a lot of information! Note: A special no-prize available for the first person to leave a comment explaining how big an "exa" is and another no prize for the first person to offer a useless analogy such as, "If one byte is a scrabble tile, the 260 exabytes of scrabble tiles would cover Wales x times and would be piled to a hight of y metres." :-)

the second thing that struck me was the estimated lifespan of storage media:
"The design life of a low-cost hard drive is five years, while the usable lifespan for magnetic tape could be as short as 10 years, and optical media such as CDs and DVDs may become unusable in just 20 years."
Good grief! This means there is a very good chance that I'll live longer than my DVD collection. So much for my dreams of sitting grandchildren on my knee and showing them The Goodies at their peak. :-)

I wonder if the World Wide Web is more or less durable? It is tempting to assume that the stuff in Blogger will be looked after and archived by those nice people at Google but in reality I suspect it will lost eventually when blogs and the Web are superseded by the next big thing in much the same way the the Web swept aside previous systems, e.g. Gopher. While in theory Gopher data can still be accessed through a web browser, in practice I suspect most of the information that was available on Gopher has just disappeared.

That's it... no great conclusion or insight, just a technology thought for the day. :-)

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1 comment:

Gerry Coutts said...

I rather like this definition of an exobyte, here goes: An exabyte (EB) is a large unit of computer data storage, two to the sixtieth power bytes. The prefix exa means one billion billion, or one quintillion, which is a decimal term. Two to the sixtieth power is actually 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 bytes in decimal, or somewhat over a quintillion (or ten to the eighteenth power) bytes. It is common to say that an exabyte is approximately one quintillion bytes. In decimal terms, an exabyte is a billion gigabytes.

Few, it's hunners!