Take a moment and think about your life pre-internet — if you were even alive back then. Hard to remember, isn’t it?
Like an increasing number of people today, the first places I log into when going online are social media accounts. It’s become almost a natural reflex now when I turn on the computer or look at my phone. It’s even found a way into my face-to-face conversations when discussing other individuals’ recent status updates or posts.
So much of our lives has become almost entirely digital, transitioning to the “metaverse.” Hell, it’s what big tech companies are betting on as it consumes even more of us.
In the 21st century, people practically live and die through electronic means: Texts, email, instant messaging, digital documents, mp3s, blogs, vlogs, videos, pictures, and smartphones.
At this moment, there are 4,089 photos on Facebook in which I am tagged. With one ‘good’ hack, the crash of several key servers, or simply the person who posted them deleting the albums that stores them, those pictures could be gone in an instant.
Welcome to the Digital Dark Age.
In 2007, the average life of a website was 44 to 75 days — about twice the length of a common housefly’s existence. As of 2021, it’s reportedly gone up to two years and seven months, which is an improvement but still just the blink of an eye. While bigger sites likely have a much longer shelf life, don’t count on electronic means like Snapfish or Flickr to stick around forever and safeguard your memories.
I rarely print out photographic memories as they primarily live a digital life, much like most of us. And that is worrisome. Why? The Digital Age makes everything immediate and easy, but also instantly perishable.
“Back when information was hard to copy, people valued the copies and took care of them. Now, copies are so common as to be considered worthless, and very little attention is given to preserving them over the long term.” – Supercomputer designer Danny Hillis
In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegram. It said, “What hath God wrought?”
The first email was sent just over 50 years ago. What did it say? The email announced its own existence, although the exact words have been forgotten.
Since 1945, society has easily amassed more than 100 times the amount of information that all of human history had been able to up to that point. That’s absolutely mind-boggling.
According to Fundacion Mapfre, a study published in Science in 2011 sought to quantify the amount of information generated and stored in the world. That year the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, claimed that Humanity had created, up to the year 2003, an amount equivalent to 5 Exabytes, adding that this figure, when he said it, was generated in 2 days.
The figures provided by the Science study are truly overwhelming. Some of these include the amount of information generated by humanity up to 2007, estimated at 295 exabytes, increasing in 2011 to 600 exabytes, or a trillion bytes, which is the capacity of a million desktop computers. The study also states that digital technology, due to the constant digitization, clearly dominates over analog technology because since 2007, 99.9% of the information generated is in digital format, or, on the contrary, that only 0.007% of the planet’s information is on paper.
Think of the things passed down by your ancestors: handwritten love letters, diaries, and faded pictures that have a tangible warmth and sense of history to them.
Years from now, what will you pass on to future generations? CDs with jpegs? Flirty, love emails? Flash drives with all your files? By that time the information on the flash drives and CDs will have either begun to disintegrate (CDs have a debatable shelf life of between 10-100 years, depending on many factors) or the technology to read them will no longer be available.
Many people today don’t like digging through their own avalanching inboxes or maxed-out hard drives, so why would anyone in the future care about what you didn’t either?
The BBC’s Domesday Project in 1986 teaches a valuable lesson on this subject. As an information source that was supposed to last 1,000 years, it lasted only 16 before becoming increasingly inaccessible. On the other hand, William the Conquerer’s original Domesday book made of sheepskin, which recorded Britain’s state of affairs in 1086, can still be inspected and read today in excellent condition at the Public Record Office in London—instantly and easily.
Today, flash, hard disk, and solid-state drives (HDD/SSD) are the primary methods used to archive nearly everything…and it should make you worry. Especially when these drives are essentially the only places you store precious, irreplaceable family memories, photos, and movies, as well as vital family, personal, and company data/documents.
I’m just as guilty as anyone of living too digitally, which is why it’s important to step back and reflect. Remember that the next time you log on to your social media or write something for your blog. Nothing lasts forever. But at this point, getting it to last just a few more decades is starting to sound good.
Some simple ways to preserve pictures:
• Print on acid-free paper
• Store in albums made from acid-free materials with acid-free dividers
• Create duplicates that are stored separately
• Avoid subjecting to extreme lighting and moisture
• Keep at room temperature, preferably between 65 to 70 degrees with a relative humidity of about 50%
• Store in a place that is secure, such as a climate-controlled storage facility
• And the easiest, most simple? Handle with care
Library of Congress – Caring for Your Collections (Books, Photos, Film, Newspaper, etc.)
Escaping The Digital Dark Age – Preserving Memories for Future Generations
eHow – How to Preserve Family Photos
Consumer Reports — How to Preserve Family Photos, Videos, and Memories for Future Generations
FamilyHistoryDaily — The Simple Dos and Don’ts for Preserving Old Family Photos at Home