Awesome Stuff: Immortal Data

from the forever-files dept

As we move ever deeper into the digital age, the question of data preservation as gotten bigger and bigger. Recently, people got a scare when it was suggested that SSDs have an even more dismal lifespan than presumed, though it turned out people were taking that study slightly out of context. Today, we look at an entirely different approach preservation: the Nanoform, an engraved sapphire disk that keeps your precious data around forever.

The Good

I imagine almost everyone feels a little attraction to the Nanoform. It’s just a damn cool idea that plays on all sorts of curious, in-built human fascinations: precious minerals, miniaturization, and of course the desire for permanence. The engraved disks are beautiful, even just for the sheer amount of information that’s packed in — one shot shows the entire text of War and Peace taking up only a fraction of a single disk. You could easily make one to include your entire life’s memoirs, every letter you’ve ever written, a whole family history of photos, and then some. The engraved and sealed sapphire disks will likely live up to their promise of an essentially-infinite lifespan — we’re not dealing with complex ways of storing bits and bytes, but a straightforward use of the world’s third-hardest mineral. The whole concept puts me in mind of the Pioneer Plaques or the Voyager Golden Record (and indeed, the Nanoform might be a great choice for any future irresistible plans to attach a message to a spacecraft).

The Bad

Well, let’s face it: this isn’t exactly practical. The Nanoform gets its data permanence by trading in data usefulness: it’s an analog medium, retaining things for curious posterity or just decoration rather than being a serious means of storage. Retrieving it doesn’t require a card reader or a disk drive, just a magnifying glass or a microscope. Getting it back onto a computer requires a high-res scanner (and all the massive limitations that method entails). So I think it’s safe to say that, outside some incredibly fringe cases that I can’t quite think of, the Nanoform is for fun not function — and given its understandably hefty price tag, it’s outside many people’s “fun” budgets. The impact of the price is softened slightly, though, by the fact that a Nanoform really will last a lifetime — a very rare thing in the days when people regularly spend just as much money on devices that are either bricked or obsolete within a few years.

The Giftable

Once many years ago, I met someone carrying a huge binder of printed pages, and asked what it was. She explained that today was the birthday of her best friend, with whom she had almost-daily instant messaging conversations that dwindled late into the night covering every aspect of both their lives, and so as a gift she had printed off their entire chat history. Later I saw the gift being given, and it was clearly one of the most fun, interesting and genuinely moving presents the person had ever received. I thought about that story when I saw the Nanoform. If I were to make a guess, I’d say the number one place the Nanoform will catch on is the world of gifts. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays — a permanent, decorative record of a lifetime is a fitting and excellent gift for all of them. And just like in that case, our online lives produce a huge amount of material that could make such a memento highly personal and meaningful.

Of course, that abundance of data about our lives is something that makes a lot of people nervous, but few people are willing to truly let go of it precisely because it represents so many memories. Maybe transcribing some of that information to an indestructible sapphire disk and getting it the hell off the cloud is exactly the solution nostalgia needs.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: Immortal Data”

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Ima Dork (profile) says:

More bad

There are a couple other negatives: recording and security:

Recording the nanoform can’t be done yourself, but must necessarily be done by the manufacturer. That’s just not suited to widespread acceptance by individuals, companies or governments. It also presumes a great deal of trust that the manufacturer will maintain appropriate privacy over what could be somewhat to very sensitive data.

Anothe aspect of the nanoform is that it affords no security in itself. No passwording, no encrypting. That could be a major consideration depending on what someone put on their nanoform, since if it feel fell into the wrong hands, it would very easy to access using the same devices (microscope, scanner, magnifying glass, etc). About the only security would be physically locking up the disk as one might do with jewelry, art, cash, etc.

Along with the disadvantage you noted, these two help to make this rather more impracticable than would seem at first glance.

Fahrenheit 2451 (user link) says:

Re: More bad

Hi Ima Dork,

Indeed, security can be a concern about any form of analogical data. Their advantage is that contrarily to digital data, they are not accessible to any form of hacking and it’s the main reason why the most confidential data are stored in an analogical form, in a safe place.
For the recording, we are used to work with the most sensitive informations (we work with governmental agencies on the storage of their sensitive data) ; but you will have, indeed, to trust us on that point.
Would be glad to answer if you have any other questions/observations!

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