131: Look Forward, Not Down

This is such rubbish. Vint Cerf claims to be seeing a general trend whereby old data types or methods of storage become outmoded or obsolete, rendering their contents inaccessible to hopeful curators. This ignores how on a personal level, there will always be some crazy person with a pristine original encoding of that holiday special that was supposed to be consigned to the flame. How many people do you think know how to re-implement so-and-so codec? How many copies of the specification, the exact requirements for decoding some file, do you think exist for any given codec?

… Not a lot, I grant you, but the situation is not nearly as bleak as it Cerf says it is. Given enough attention, a majority of data can be preserved; the real problems are at historical institutes like our University’s Pacific Film Archive, which has reel upon reel of old film lying around, undigitalized, slowly succumbing to decay from old age. While VHS is a legitimate example of something that is almost certainly all but inaccessible now, I cannot imagine there is a long list of movies not released via other mediums (read: available for [il]legal streaming) now imprisoned within the jail of obscurity that is the VHS. Corner cases like Nosferatu (destroyed for legal reasons, salvaged through a serendipitous find of a reel that escaped attention) don’t really count.

Things aren’t that bad. My copy of GIMP (which I know to be in dire developmental straits) can still open Photoshop files made with Photoshop 5 with few problems. Software engineers sharpen their stakes and their wits more and  more with each passing generation. Mozilla is (kinda-sorta) on the brink of reverse-engineering Flash. The GIF standard isn’t going anywhere fast, and you can be sure that there are enough redundant copies of your favorite cat picture saved in various formats anyway.

The question of how data is remixed, recompressed, and reposted from end to end to end of the internet is slightly more valid question that I find worth consideration. But that’s another story for another post.

J39M

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