What does your future data look like?
In our Digital Footprint series, we’ve touched on the casualties and pitfalls of a poorly maintained digital presence.
Also, we’ve covered a variety of ways in which one can preserve and improve the quality of their lives online.
But what if every shred of your personal experience on the Internet is temporary?
It doesn’t seem understandable in this age of hyper-communication.
Our photographs, our documents, our blog posts, our tweets, our contacts, our presentations, and publications—everything our digital lives touch seem to be immovable and permanent.
This may not be exactly the truth—at least for the long term and looking to the future of data.
Permanent is Temporary
Yes, everything is accessible for now.
But what happens in the long run?
What about 20 years, 50 years, and 200 years from now. What do you think will happen to our data then?
A multitude of printed records, constructed and compiled by our ancestors, have endured the test of time.
As a result, we still know a tremendous amount about how people in 1816 lived.
The worry shared by technology experts is simple: as time progresses, will we still have the ability to access the information that exists now, and defines us?
In short, will historians of the future look back at the early 21st century and see void?
Vint Cerf, a VP at Google, has reminded us that some information from the most recent iterations of technology has already been lost to the ravages of time:
- VHS cassettes,
- vinyl records, and
- floppy discs.
These have shelf lives.
And once they degrade, the unique information on them can be lost to the sands of time.
While electronic media doesn’t erode in the same, physical, way that analogue media does, we do currently have a global lack of electronic storage that can be guaranteed to withstand the centuries.
Cerf calls this slow erosion “bit rot.”
How can we be sure that the software that helps us view a .jpeg file, will still exist in the year 2116?
And how can we ensure we copy all current information to the new storage for each successive generation?
You must be looking toward the future of data and information.
Your Future Data, in 2036
In so far, we’ve talked about your digital footprint and how it affects your standing in the marketplace.
While it’s an exciting topic of consideration, what does this “bit rot” have to do with your job?
In the same way, global leaders of data storage should project their vision centuries ahead to ensure that this doesn’t become a “lost century”.
So must we as individuals.
We must look ahead into much shorter periods to ensure that elements of our own lives, and careers, won’t become equally “lost.”
Your career, with luck, will be fruitful, and long.
But with the evolution of technology, we can’t say with relative certainty that the technology to access a USB flash drive will still be available in the 2030s?
What about an external hard drive?
Even with the advent of cloud computing, can we honestly believe that access to a neglected DropBox account will be able to be indeed reinstated?
If you’re still wondering, ask yourself: What would you do if you found it necessary to recover a crucial document from a 3.5-inch floppy disk?
The fundamental point of this Digital Footprint series has been that we live, more and more, our lives online.
Any person who has enjoyed a lifelong career will tell you: sometimes, it becomes necessary to look decades back, into the filing cabinets, to find a pivotal piece of information that affects their lives in the present.
You of the year 2036 could, very well, need the information that’s stored—seemingly forever—in the year 2016.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll be diligent; that you’ll preserve the vital information. But with the sheer amount of data stored in the ether, how likely is this prospect?
Preserve your future data—start recording essential data today
There are a few tips you can employ today that will help you organize your information for decades to come and you should be looking at the future.
Backup Your Backup
Buy two hard drives that each contains at least two terabytes of space.
Keep one on your desk, and use it regularly in conjunction with your computer’s History Backup function (“Time Machine” on Mac).
Keep the other hard drive someplace safe, preferably off the property.
Once every six months, copy the contents of the first hard drive onto the second one.
This ensures you always have a backup of all of your data.
Update Your Technology
Experts recommend backing up your information to the newest form of storage technology every five to seven years.
This may seem daunting at first, as the amount of data we have grows exponentially.
Thankfully, so does storage capacity, which doubles, relative to its price, every two years.
So, 16 terabytes of storage media in 2022 will cost the same as two terabytes today.
Imagine a journalist who wants to look back 20 years for an audio file from an important interview.
If it’s not labelled correctly, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Periodically going through your information and adequately labelling, it could save you a tremendous amount of time and strain in the future.
Be Aware of “Phasing Out”
Microsoft Office is an industry-standard.
But how certain are you that this program is still around 20 years from now?
What about Facebook, or Instagram? Or even your email account.
There are many contacts, and relevant emails stored every day.
Every five years, make sure you have a method of accessing the information you rely on today.
Aside from a local computer crash, your cloud-based information isn’t going to vanish overnight—just maybe someday.
Keep an eye on it and keep looking to the future.
Check & Trim the Fat
Every piece of information isn’t essential.
If you’re serious about it, check and get rid of any unnecessary information every two years. That would give you extra space too.
This will make it easier to organize, and much easier to find what you’re looking for, years down the line.
Good Old Fashioned Paper
We’re a paperless society, more and more.
But sometimes, the most sure-fire way of preserving the most critical documents in our lives is to apply them to paper.
Print photographs, documents, and essential pieces of information on archival, acid-free materials, and store them in cool, dry, dark places.
Do the hard work now for your future data
This type of preparation might seem like a drag.
But so is the cleaning and maintaining your house once a year.
You preserve what you want, and get rid of the excess.
The same goes for our information.
It’s better to put chunks of time in now to make sure they are clean and accessible way into the future.