If you worry about future generations finding photos of you during your Kardashian contouring phase, take heart. Such incriminating photos will likely be forgotten as we enter a potential ‘digital dark age’ – a period in which the digital records of our entire generation are lost and forgotten by future historians. The phenomenon represents an irony inherent to modern technology: because we digitize our photos, music, films – and even official documents such as court rulings – to store them safely for long-term survival, we could actually be making ourselves more vulnerable to losing our information.
Unlike physical photographs and documents, digital files require software and hardware that could very well be unavailable in the coming years (remember Jaz drives? Neither do we). As constantly evolving hardware renders barely year-old models obsolete, how will we be able to access those files? Already, thousands of photos and messages are trapped in the ancient bodies of discarded flip phones. Even backing up digital content to more ubiquitous hardware like drives and discs does not guarantee longevity thanks to a phenomenon known as data rot which causes it to gradually decay over time.
And if you think storing data on the cloud is the limitless solve, imagine the possible repercussions of entrusting our digital information solely to Internet corporations such as Google or Amazon. They would essentially become the gatekeepers of our memories – and that’s assuming they’ll still be around in the decades to come. Some companies are already forcing users to pay up or move their data elsewhere.
So how can we ensure our cleverly hashtagged wedding photos are saved for the grandchildren? There are efforts to archive the Internet, but will it matter if the Internet ceases to exist? Although we’re used to our digital files being automatically stored, preserving our personal and family histories is going to require more effort. Call us old fashioned, but we think the most reliable way to preserve documents and photos is to print them out and store them in a safe place. As for other digital content, we recommend updating hard drive backups regularly — that is until the day our memories are enhanced so that AI records and remembers every event in our lives. Hey, it’s Black Mirror’s world, and we’re just living in it.