DThis is an updated version of an article I originally published several years ago. A newsletter reader recently questioned the life expectancy of digital files versus paper. I referred him to my earlier article but noticed that it was a bit out of date. I have now rewritten part of the original article and am republishing it today.
I often write about digital products for use in genealogy. Here is a comment I hear and read all the time: “I am going to keep my files on paper to make sure they last for many years, longer than digital files.”Wrong! Properly maintained, digital files will always last much, much longer than paper or microfilm. Let’s focus on the phrase, “properly maintained.”
Documents printed on paper will last 25 to 100 years, sometimes more, depending upon the type of paper used, the ink that is used, the binding, storage conditions, and so forth. Ink fades, toner fades even more quickly, and the stuff that substitutes for real ink in inkjet printers fades the fastest of all. Paper darkens. Exposure to light, humidity, and variable temperatures only hastens the degradation of the printed words and images. Anything you create today on paper probably will last your lifetime if properly cared for. However, it probably will not be readable by your great-great-grandchildren. . . .
Luckily, digital files will last forever and will not deteriorate from use if proper precautions are taken. Simply make multiple copies of each file and store those copies in different, widely-separated locations. Luckily, that doesn’t cost much with digital files and only requires a few minutes of your time.
Of course, in order to last forever, the files also must be copied to new media every few years, and the file format must be updated (converted) to new formats, as needed. For instance, if copies are stored on CD-ROM disks, those copies need to be re-copied to newer forms of storage as the technology changes. If images are stored in JPG format, they do need to be converted to new formats as newer formats become available. Data that is “maintained” properly in the latest formats on the latest storage devices will remain visible forever. . . . [These paragraphs are only a small part of the article] To read the full article go to "Eastman's on-line genealogy Newsletter" or click on "Eastmans Genealogy Newsletter" on "Favorite Links" listed at the right of these posts. Scroll down to Click on "CATEGORIES" then find the category "PRESERVATION" and click on it. Then scroll down until you find this article.
Copyright permission to post snippets from this article were given by Dick Eastman.