‘Digital Dark Age’ May Doom Some Data

The framed photograph will inevitably fade and yellow over time, but the digital photo file may be unreadable to future computers — an unintended consequence of our rapidly digitising world that may ultimately lead to a digital dark age, says Jerome P McDonough, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to McDonough, the issue of a looming digital dark age originates from the mass of data spawned by our ever-growing information economy — at last count, 369 exabytes worth of data, including electronic records, tax files, e-mail, music and photos, for starters. (An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes; a quintillion is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes.) The concern for archivists and information scientists like McDonough is that, with ever-shifting platforms and file formats, much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole of inaccessibility

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