Digitized information and the affect on history

First a bit of background on this post.

It is new year's time and I was busy preparing my resolutions for the next year. Now, I like a systematic method of capturing the information about how I fared and I keep trying out new organizing tools to do so. I have switched from simple notes (as text documents) to sophisticated and personal XML formats to do so.

I decided to use FreeMind as my organizer for this year. In order to ensure that I don't lose time on experimentation with this capturing methodology, I tried it out in the last week of December.

A week's experimentation and I was convinced. It was working out well. In the back of my mind, I was also thinking of the need to take some kind of backup of this data, lest I lose ALL my information because of some stupid mistake.

The stupid mistake was bound to happen sooner than expected. Some wrong keystroke and the file size was reduced to 0. In other words the data in the file was wiped out. I tried using some data recovery software to scan my filesystem and try recovering some backup of the file but it did not work and my week's data was lost!

It was too hard to believe that my data was there just a moment ago and now I don't have it anymore. This made me think how vulnerable our data is. As a co-incidence, the same day, I listened to some podcast where the narrator was explaining the vulnerability of digital data.

Imagine that the entire life form is wiped out suddenly because of some form of 'doomsday' and life regenerates and these new guys don't have a concept of 'digital information'. Imagine that these guys are now doing research similar to the present day 'archeology'. What would they come up with?

“Just a few hundred years back it is believed that there were some intelligent life forms on the earth. We have recovered some evidence that these people were very intelligent. Different people had different roles. We have recovered some highly symmetrically shaped objects. It is believed that a lot of people (yeah, they are referring to software engineers) spent their entire life with these objects. From carbon dating the life of these objects shows that it is very recent, so these people are believed to be doing some very intelligent work although this has not been proven. Also not much inscribed or written data is available from this era. So we believe that they had a sophisticated method of communication.”

Digital data is so different. We can have multiple copies of it. But then it is all upto our interpretation. The pits on a CD represent how my food looked when I had been on my US trip, but only my computer knows how to interpret this information. Updates mean that new data just overwrites previous data. This is quite different from a traditional paper/pen method of capturing information. I don't, for example, have a way of looking at how my idea evolved from the very beginning to the present. The death of a person can also wipe out so much of information about the person residing in various data stores like mail-boxes, bookmarking sites etc, which give a hint about the personality of the person.

The bottom line is that digital data is vulnerable to loss. So whenever you are churning out data remember this fact. If something is precious, move that out of the digital world and into the real world. Data in digital form no matter how many backups you take is always vulnerable to loss.

Just my 2 cents.