Date: June 21, 2018
“We may [one day] know less about the early 21st century than we do about the early 20th century,” says Rick West, who manages data at Google. “The early 20th century is still largely based on things like paper and film formats that are still accessible to a large extent; whereas, much of what we’re doing now — the things we’re putting into the cloud, our digital content — is born digital. It’s not something that we translated from an analog container into a digital container, but, in fact, it is born, and now increasingly dies, as digital content, without any kind of analog counterpart.”
Computer and data specialists refer to this era of lost data as the “digital dark ages.” Other experts call the 21st century an “informational black hole,” because the digital information we are creating right now may not be readable by machines and software programs of the future. All that data, they worry — our century’s digital history — is at risk of never being recoverable.
Kari Kraus, an associate professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park and who helps run a project that rescues and resurrects digital relics, including video games and virtual worlds, knows about bit rot, and its close relative “software rot,” in which old files, games and other data becomes unusable because no format exists to read and reproduce the information.”