In a recent Time Magazine article Google exec Vint Cerf argues that we should all start making hard copies of our documents and photos as he foresees a future where software upgrades will render large portions of our history inaccessible digitally.
While I understand his point, I think it’s far more likely that our hard copies would be destroyed by loss, water, fire, aging, and such like, and probably sooner that they would be digitally inaccessible.
Case in point: I recently wanted to recover some digitally stored copies of some research papers from my college days. These papers were written and stored with an old MS-DOS version of WordPerfect some 30 years ago, and to make matters worse they were password protected.
It took some Googling and searching, but I was able to find FREE utilities in under and hour that allowed me to crack those passwords and convert those old MS-DOS WordPerfect files to 2013 Word files.
If you truly want to protect your data, you can convert that old Office 95 document to an Office 2013 document in less time than you can print a hard copy and file it somewhere.
The same is true of photos. I really don’t see the JPEG format going anywhere soon, but if a better compression format comes along, you will be able to batch convert all your JPEGs to the new format faster and easier than you can print them and file them.
And of course, if you’re like me, any photos that are truly priceless I maintain in RAW, TIFF and JPEG formats. I highly doubt that in the next 30-50 years, there won’t still be software available that can read and convert and least one of those formats. True 8-bit color palettes are giving way to 16-bit color palettes and maybe someday we will be working with 32 or 48-bit color palettes, but the formats and smaller color palettes will still be readable.
Bottom line: Mr. Cerf’s advice is really bad advice. Paper documents are easily lost and destroyed. The best advice is to store important data digitally, store it in multiple locations and multiple formats, and when you update your software take the time to update your data files.