I had mentioned that I visited the Getty Museum last week. I was amazed that there were documents on display that were hundreds of years old. You realized that if someone wanted a copy of that manuscript, some monk probably hand-copied it to another parchment. The transfer of information was very slow. But the "data" survived! You could still read it 600 years later! You then realize that this document was probably the exception, not the rule. Paper doesn't survive very well. It is easily destroyed by fire, water, insects, and time itself. Stone is better material for preserving data. You can still read the text of the Egyptians and the Mayans, but it's not a readily portable media. And it too can wear with time.
There was a speech about movie preservation at the Oscars last night. I have seen documentaries about how unstable film is, especially early celluloid. Many movies made just 100 years ago have turned to goo in their cans. I even saw that "Star Wars" had deteriorated significantly before it was restored.
So now we are in the digital age. We can send data around the world to millions of people in seconds! And the data is portable too! Memory sticks and cards! CD's! DVD's! Even good old 3.5" floppies! These are all vast improvements to stacks of cards or reels of magnetic tape. I read a story about NASA on how they took all of their Apollo flight data which had been stored on tape and converted it to cd's. It went from a data room to a data shelf. But with the advancements come the drawbacks.
I still have a stack of 5.25" disks that I purchased just 10 years ago. They are for all intents and purposes worthless. I keep my old machine around because I still have a 5.25" drive on it. 3.5" disks are also going the way of the dinosaur. And the new machines can barely talk to the old machines. And so we are forced to keep upgrading our technology to keep pace. If a step gets missed, there is great potential for losing what we have. I can pull out photo albums and look at pictures I took 30 years ago. If I had stored digital pictures on a floppy disk, I might have lost those images forever. Right now I have several cd's burned of all the digital images I have taken. What if cd's become obsolete in 10 years? Or what if cd technology changes? I tried to view the pictures on my old pc. It didn't recognize a burned cd.
And so it appears to me that the amount of data out there is huge! We can fit the knowledge of an encyclopedia on a few disks. At the same time it appears that the data is also just as fragile as it has always been and can be lost incredibly easily.