Is Digital Really Archival?

posted on: August 2, 2013

As I've been sorting, organizing, and packing everything for this move, it's really struck me how the simplicity of paper and the printed image has actually survived and preserved information far better than the hard drives, DVDs, CDs, and other digital media that I've had. I found paper copies of my resume from 1997, 2001, & 2004 but I can't even tell you what version of Word those would have been printed from, what computer I would have saved them on, or if they ever made it to another form of "archival" digital media... and that was only 9 years ago! I have printed photos of myself as a child from over 30 years ago, but as I pulled out digital media from just 5 years ago, some CDs have been scratched or cracked to the point they can't be read, and that drive from just 2 years ago just doesn't seem to be starting up AT ALL and I have no idea if it's recoverable. 

I'm pretty sure Costco can convert VHS and possibly MiniDV to DVD, but who can convert MiniDisc?

Now I'm slightly terrified I've lost precious family memories because I never printed them and took them off that seemingly "safe" digital storage medium. It's really making me rethink what it means to archive and preserve information, and it's really given me an appreciation for the accessibility and archive that Pictage has of my professional work. Hard drives have failed, clients have had DVDs and Albums destroyed in flood or fire, negatives have been lost in moves, and yet Pictage has kept my professional images safe and sound through all of my moves and transitions so that my clients can always get a physical archive of their wedding and family memories, even 8 years later, after their CDs have become too scratched and computers have crashed.

Archival Wedding Album

I really wish I had printed my family and personal images over the last few years instead of letting them just live on digital media.  I had a bunch of personal images stored with Apple's former online cloud system DotMac which initially was moved to MobileMe, but when Apple sent me a notice that they were closing down these services and I should archive my media, I was too busy to make anything happen and now I've lost everything that was stored in their online server system and not printed or backed up in another accessible form.  Why they couldn't have just transitioned it to their new iCloud system is beyond me, but alas, it is what it is... a learning lesson that even things which you pay for one day may become unavailable the next.  At least I still have all the personal photos I stored on Flickr since 2005, but who knows how long that will last?

My first playmates #FamilyArchives

This move has made me keenly aware that perhaps it's finally time to print some of the family and personal images I DO still have access to so that I might actually have them even if some apocalyptic solar flare knocks out half the world's servers and electronics. I'm not being fatalistic... just realistic... nothing will last forever, but there are definitely ways we can make things last longer. I've been a huge advocate for digital media, especially for the seemingly eco-friendly reasons, but as I move a big bin of hard drives into storage next to the big bin of printed photos... I can't help but feel that the printed photos are the ones that are actually going to survive and still be accessible 10 years from now.  The longer I've waited to create a printed archive, the more I've lost.  Something to think about and consider for the years to come.

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