Durability, reliability, recoverability

This thought has been hovering me for the past months. Exactly since I did a good in depth cleaning in my old room and went through all sorts of odd memorabilia and ephemera, and really enjoyed finding so many silly things and mementos --like paper napkins of cafeterías which do not exist anymore--, quite well preserved taking into account their age (maybe 15 years?), and then half of my CD-R discs couldn't be read. At all.

Then there were the cassette tapes too, which worked in all their glorious lo-fi range, and the vinyls, with their large artwork that allowed the cover artists to indulge in so many details, and their unaltered grooves, still working because they are kept in the proper position.

And the books, and the magazines: all can be perfectly read. Maybe they are a little yellowed in the edges, but that decay adds to their character. But let's not stop here: in my quest for widening my reading repertoire, I had this idea of reading old-school chick lit, i.e. books that belonged to my grandma. Apart from finding them way better written than I expected, and hilariously funny and enjoyable too, I had a sudden realisation: this book I am reading is almost one hundred years old.

Now, please go back to what I just wrote. One hundred years old. My grandma read it, maybe someone else read it too (she had a lot of sisters). Funnily, she forbade my mum to read it, but she did it anyway, when grandma wasn't looking. Then I have read it too. I think it is marvellous, and so sad at the same time. For all the new and great inventions we've devised in the last one hundred years, it's going to be extremely difficult to leave any sort of cultural legacy in modern form.

There's a solution for digital content: continuous replication, to avoid errors and glitches due to storage degradation. Mirrors, cloud storage, backups, you name it. That's assuming there's no DRM involved.

But what about the medium? I was considering using again my old iPod mini (2004). Then I thought: right, but what if I decide to do so in the future, when I don't have any computer with iTunes? And if I have iTunes (or iContent or however it's called by then), will it know about my player or will it just say it doesn't recognise the device? Yes, there's Rockbox, but that's because iPods are popular. What with lesser known devices? Will there be drivers or any way of accessing them in the future?

Tape and vinyl players do not exhibit this kind of problems. My old boombox keeps working. Maybe I should clean the tape heads, but that's it. It sort of degrades the audio, but it's still audible.

Then, today, I was just trying to watch a video, and the Galaxy Tab that I was given in the Google I/O 2011 decided to die in an infinite loop suicide act. Apparently there are ways to fix it, but it really annoys me that nowadays technology is so incredibly fragile. A silly badly timed update here, and you're left without a working device. Hah! Bad luck. That's how life is nowadays, right?

Well, I don't think it should be that way.