Will future generations have nostalgia for our digital love letters?
How fitting that Valentine’s Day is approaching as I am writing this post. How will you express your Valentine’s wishes this year? Via email or text? Facebook message? “Heart me” picture on Instagram or Snapchat? Or maybe a good, old-fashioned card or letter?
I’ve recently been pondering the volatile character of our current communications. We can still find and read passionate letters from Napoleon to Josephine or King Sobieski to his beloved Marysienka, written with an inked quill on paper, and sent by a courier. But my recent experience has shown that email is not a good epistolary medium, as my bits and bytes may (and did) disappear at the fancy of a system admin working for free email service. Poof. Gone. Of course, these emails were important only to me and my correspondents, and would provide no significant value to a historian from a far-far-away galaxy analyzing our daily lives in the future.
And as an IT professional, I understand how this works. The (free) email provider had no obligation to store my emails for posterity, and I was taking up some space. I’m sure with so many free accounts on this hosting service, storage may have become a concern. And no wonder–with the rampant growth of digital data, companies are concerned about exceeding their limitations. I called my colleague Amedee Potier, Product Manager from Rocket’s Archive and Backup unit, to understand what he sees in the market.
Amedee confirmed that indeed there is a lot of apprehension, because primary storage is expensive. Hard drives are cheaper, but we need to store more and more. IT organizations can set up rules to delete or archive data, but the enforcing them would be considered brute force, so in reality they’re rarely executed. As the result, the best solution would be an educated action from the data owner: provide IT with tools which can prompt the user to act on their data. For example, before backing up a hard drive, ask a user to review a few folders which haven’t been accessed in last three years.
And there are a lot of options today to store data, including cold storage, Blu-ray storage, and tape (pronounced dead so many times). All are cheaper, but at the expense of performance. Intelligent tools are needed to help organizations decide which data needs to be preserved for potential audits or other requirements, and provide recommendations of what tier of storage to use.
But that’s all IT talk. We also pondered about our personal lives. Things like that cute picture of your kid on your phone (2.5MB), a one-minute video of that kindergarten recital (130MB)…you get the point. But not everybody does; proliferation of easy-to-use high-tech devices hasn’t improved our understanding of the volatile nature of the data. Many folks lose their life memories due to hard drive failures and a lackadaisical approach to backup. Amedee’s answer to that was once again education. Just as we teach our children about recycling, we should teach them about value of data and cost of the storage. Data management means that everybody takes responsibility for their part.
So I’m off for some spring cleaning: cleaning my inbox, sorting pictures, and deleting those unvisited folders. I’ll also be writing a nice paper Valentine’s card. How about you?