How a lack of Strategy causes collective Data Loss
Together we create terabytes of data each day. We assume all of our data can eventually be retrieved somewhere on the world wide web and everything stored digitally will last forever. But can we really rely on this while there is an information overload and technologies for storage are changing rapidly?
Tegenlicht, a Dutch journalism program, dedicated an episode to this issue and started their research when the Dutch government decided to give away a huge collections of books of the “Tropen Museum”. The whole collection was shipped to Alexandria, almost for free. When we stop maintaining our book collections, we probably assume that it’s of no value anymore. This is a good example of the lack of strategy on how we manage our data nowadays. In this episode Tegenlicht went looking for individuals and non-profit companies who are trying to manage and capture our data. They try to sort into this information mass and they are trying to store this knowledge for the people of the future.
For example, they found Internet Archive. This foundation wants to create a data collection with everything available for everyone and therefore they are working on digitalizing many books. Besides digitalizing books, they also archive everything that happens online. There are lots of websites and apps created and the content and design is changing constantly. Internet Archive is making scans of most of the existing websites every 2 months. So whenever we want to, we can look up what this ‘early-stage’ content was. They’re saving our history.
Another initative to capture our data comes from Jason Scott. He emphasizes that earlier stages of software and hardware are not usable anymore even within a generation, for example the floppy disk. He is now giving other people the opportunity to capture online data trough his website Archive Team. For more examples of people and companies taking care of this problem, you can watch the whole episode (mainly in Dutch).
Of course, data captured in books or other physical manners is not indestructible either, there has always been loss of data. But to make sure we don’t lose valuable data this time, people should become aware of the fact that this online data isn’t infinitely accessible either. We should value ‘our collective brain’ more than we do now. As someone in the documentary said: “Losing data is easy, but through hard work, saving data can be easily as well.” However, I personally think saving everything is not the answer to it. But, what we consider to be important now, may not be important to historians in hundred or thousand years. Therefore a well thought strategy on how to manage the collective data and the storage of data for our future should be developed.