22 June 2010


Anything on a computer is ephemeral. If you don’t get your work produced in the real world you are on very dangerous ground. Computers have improved a lot but they are still not completely reliable. Hopefully we back things up, but I’ve come across a larger long term problem; unexpected obsolescence.

I’ve been preoccupied lately trying to salvage about fifteen years worth of files from obsolete computers. I use mostly Macintoshes, and before the current very stable OS X came along they would frequently crash, sometimes seriously enough to have to reformat the hard disk. Fortunately I had backups of most of the data, but unfortunately it was written to cartridges that require a SCSI connection, which Apple used to use before making it obsolete along with all the peripherals that used to connect with it. I have one computer left with this type of system but it is flaky and unstable. Still I’ve been able to recover a lot of data.

Now comes the really challenging part. A lot of it was created in programs that no longer exist so there is no way to read the contents without the old program, including finding anything online since this is all pre-Internet stuff. Many companies have simply gone out of business or discontinued products with no support. Current programs can’t read the files. I’ve been struggling to find the old program installation floppy disks to try and reconstitute the programs. The reason a lot of this stuff didn’t get carried forward and translated into a newer format is that most of it consists of notes of ideas for future use as in a scratch pad, or musical improvisations; generally things done on the fly.

I’m making some progress in recovery, but what this tells me is that nothing that is current is necessarily going to be around in the future. There is no guarantee decades ahead that there will be programs capable of reading all that you’re doing now. Obsolescence is an ongoing problem with technology, and if we’re not carefully conscious of this fact much can be permanently lost.

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