The Fading Memory of the State

Imagine losing all your tax records, your high school and college yearbooks, and your child’s baby pictures and videos. Now multiply such a loss across every federal agency storing terabytes of information, much of which must be preserved by law. That’s the disaster NARA is racing to prevent. It is confronting thousands of incompatible data formats cooked up by the computer industry over the past several decades, not to mention the limited lifespan of electronic storage media themselves. The most famous documents in NARA’s possession–the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights–were written on durable calfskin parchment and can safely recline for decades behind glass in a bath of argon gas. It will take a technological miracle to make digital data last that long. —David TalbotThe Fading Memory of the State (MIT Technology Review (will expire))