Everyone Print Out All Your Emails For The Sake Of History

from the filing-nightmare dept

Just as we’ve finally reached the point where we’re no longer hearing stories of senior executives at companies who have their assistants print out each of their emails, along come some researchers suggesting that everyone print out paper copies of their emails for the sake of history. He’s afraid that digital data isn’t permanent enough, and we’re all going to lose important historical data. Now, some of his points are valid. The ease with which data is deleted is definitely true. Furthermore, changing formats, and incompatible hardware and software certainly has created situations where data has become difficult to retrieve. However, the nice thing about being digital is that it’s easy to make exact replicas of the data, that can be backed up and stored in multiple formats and places. Paper isn’t quite so easy (or cheap) to copy, and is also very susceptible to decay and other natural disasters like, say, fire. I’d say the ease of replication wins out long-term, over the hard-copy nature of paper, when it comes to keeping historical records.

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Comments on “Everyone Print Out All Your Emails For The Sake Of History”

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ScooterBoy says:

it's TOO easy to save stuff

well.. i’d argue that the problem is that digital media makes it TOO easy to save stuff, and too hard to find things in the resulting clutter — which means that EVERYTHING gets saved, whether or not it’s important… i mean, i try to save the good photos and letters that in a special drawer, and everything else i just kind of toss in the closet (i should throw them in the trash, but that’s another issue).. anyway, as for my email and digital pics, i save them ALL, and it’s SO hard to dig through them all when i’m trying to find them…

Mike (profile) says:

Re: No Subject Given

I don’t think you are giving paper enough credit as an archive medium. We can read the dead sea scrolls thousands of years after they were written. I doubt CD’s, tapes, or hard drives will still be useful in the year 4003!

I’d say parchment is a different story. Unless you’ve got something going that I don’t know about, I doubt your printing your email on parchment.

However, you’ve missed my point. I’m not saying paper doesn’t last. I’m saying the benefits of data being digital far outweigh the benefits of paper lasting a long time.

Gord (user link) says:

digital vs paper

I disagree with the author?s conclusion in this article,


that digital wins out with respect to long-term storage. In a hundred years or more, the paper may have decayed, but it will still be readable, and instantly so? whereas digital formats come and go so fast?.. I wouldn’t count on CDs, DVDs and other medium to be readily accessible by then.

Then again, how many of us will be alive to bitch about it anyway. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: digital vs paper

I don’t know about that…

ASCII has been around a long time… and the ascidic papers that are in production today have the life span of a papertowl comparied to various papers of the past.

Here’s a simple test: show me a printout from the 50s or 60s (and I don’t mean a punch card).

Anonymous Coward says:

Digital doesn't last either

Hard drives and CD’s do lose their 1’s and 0’s over multiple reads. It is not something a lot of hi-tech companies want you to know, but there are companies that specialize in the arcane art of long-term digital data storage. 100% data integrity is not possible. Making several backups and getting a statistical average, whose reliability decreases with time, is the only way to go.

Perry says:

Another journalistic missed target?

Without pointing any particular fingers, it seems to me the copy desk who wrote the original “Email rise could lead to loss of historical records” really fumbled. It seemed also true that the journalist who wrote the story went for the juicy quotes instead of trying to convey what Errol Friedberg was trying to say.

Anybody have a link to the original Nature story?

The archival aspect of digital data is an area which is extremely important, but almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media. One could suppose because all journalists rely on “backgrounder” data from either dead-tree or digital formats those sources are mostly downplayed because they are “old” news.

What’s interesting is that digital media has the ability to provide all of us with much more of a useful and stable method of preserving our history than ever before. That we don’t seem to have the method of doing that very well yet is a result of digital being a very young medium.

Frankly, my email doesn’t nearly approach the level of Friedberg’s and I can safely dump more than 90 percent with few qualms.

On the other hand, I wonder how many of us non-Friedbergs have potentially valuable family photos tucked away in a drawer now fading away. You may not care about those photos, but your children or their children might.

A few years ago there was a mini crisis in Hollywood about the fact that a bunch of old films were self-destructing because of time, poor storage, and the type of film emulsion. What’s sad about what may have been lost is the genesis of some of the roots of motion-picture technology.

Here’s an irony. Some of the oldest books around for historical research were printed on vellum which was originally a tanned skin of a calf or lamb. The technology of how they made that media to last so long is now mostly speculation. There are other examples of “old” tech which have become lost.

Sorry for the rant,

Anonymous Coward says:

Changing E-mail format?

What? Printing out email because its format will change?

What kind of internet is this guy using? The one I use has had the same email format since inception. You know, that same internet whose open formats directly led to its widespread use. The ‘mbox’ format hasn’t changed since, well, ever, really.

And when, really, is it going to be changed? When DRM becomes mandatory? I think that, if that happens, we have more problems than we think.

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