Our Macs are loaded with files. Photos, documents, music, movies, and more. It’s our iLife life.
What happens to our digital archives when file formats change in the future? Will our Mac life today be obsolete?
A version of that question popped up in a recent online Popular Mechanics article about a Digital Ice Age.
This is different than our reaction and response to hard drive that dies.
Yes, we’ll lose all the data on that drive, but if we backed up appropriately, then nothing is lost.
We’re in a personal digital age of sorts. I have about 8,000 digital photos on my Mac. Over 2,000 songs.
There’s countless documents in one file format or another. How will those files be preserved for the future?
I’m not talking about next year, but the decade after this one, or the decade after that one.
Look at the digital data on your Mac. How many different file formats are there that need to get carried into the future?
I have Word documents, AppleWorks files, Excel spreadsheets, Keynote and PowerPoint presentations, not to mention half a dozen other format types.
I have movie files in various formats, thanks to QuickTime.
I have at least four formats for music, including MP3s, AAC, AIFF, and WAV.
Photos and images? Uh oh. There are JPGs, RAW, and half a dozen other format from PNG to TIFF to PCT and some so old I don’t know what they are.
My Mac has some files that are over a dozen years old and I haven’t opened them in any recent application to see if they’ll still, well, open.
The Popular Mechanics article posed an example of a true threat to digital data. Not decaying hard drives. Dying formats.
In 1986, the BBC created a Doomsday Box. “More than a million people submitted photographs, written descriptions and video clips for this new “book.” It was stored on laser discs — considered indestructible at the time — so future generations of students and scholars could learn about life in the 20th century.”
Doesn’t that sound noble and appropriate. After all, the media should last for a hundred years. What happened after only 20 years?
Storing valuable digital data such as movies, music, photos, and documents poses two problems. The first is where we store the data.
Most of us have hard drives, but they corrupt and die, requiring an ongoing backup system.
The second is the format in which we store the data. What’s popular and acceptable today may not be in 10 years or 30 years or longer.
It’s more than likely that in just a few years, perhaps not longer than a decade, all the file formats we use today will have changed.
What will happen to our files? What’s the solution to this dilemma? Are we in permanent lockdown mode, and stuck with old data formats forever?
Will Apple, Microsoft, and others provide necessary tools and utilities to keep our files up to date? What plans do you have to maintain your files?