You probably forgot, but there’s a chance that, somehow, you still have some floppy discs stashed away somewhere in your home. Maybe in that filing cabinet you moved to the attic a few years ago. Or in that cardboard box labeled “Misc.” in your basement.
Well, I got news for you: there’s no way you’re going to be able to read the files you stored on those floppy disks.
“Aha,” I hear you say, “ but I managed to get a floppy disk drive from a garage sale.”
Great! But do you still have that old PC running MS-DOS that floppy disk drive was attached to? I doubt it. Or that pre-MacOS Apple Macintosh? Mmmm… No, the stark reality is that for all intents and purposes, your files are lost. They’re still there and will be for many years to come, but no-one will be able to read them.
OK, you’re quite certain you don’t have any floppy disks anymore.
But I’m sure you still have some DVDs lying around, with photos, WORD and EXCEL files, all sorts of stuff. Where’s that DVD drive? Didn’t it go out the door with that PC or iMac you gave away to a school two years ago, because you were moving to the West Coast for your job? Do you have a DVD drive on your laptop? Nope… You’ll have to go out and buy one. And maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to retrieve your files.
You may find all this a bit far-fetched but let me tell you: archiving digital data is a serious issue. How stable are magnetic media? Even if we switch to optical archiving, will future technology be able to read the files on the media we use today? The only way to deal with this problem, is to keep transferring data to new media, every time technology moves forward, which is cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive.
Now, why would we worry about that on a website dedicated to photography and film?
Think of it: the vast majority of movies are filmed with digital cinema cameras today, except by some 35mm film die-hards such as Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino. A typical movie will run to multiple terabytes of data. Ever wondered how they are archived? Not on magnetic media, nor even on optical media, for the reasons indicated above.
That’s the beauty, the irony. With all the state-of-the-art technology we have today, digital movies are archived on, well… film. 35mm film to be precise. Because that’s the only medium we know how to store and safely keep for very long periods, using simple technology: all you need is a secure vault, equipped to maintain a stable and controlled atmosphere. People three generations from now worry about the condition of the films? They’ll just make a new copy. On 35mm film. They want to show the movie in a theater? They scan it in to make a digital copy ready for projection.
There’s a catch, though. KODAK is the only manufacturer left of 35mm film for the motion picture industry. There’s ORWO in Germany, but as I write, they only make B/W film.