Dark Ages II : When the Digital Data Die


  • Civilization at risk: Is our most important information about to vanish?
  • Here today, gone tomorrow: Disappearing Web sites, unproven storage technologies, obsolete data formats
  • Specific, realistic solutions for individuals, organizations, and society

Your data—and everyone's—is in danger. Discover why—and what to do about it!

Dark Ages II shows why our data is at far ...

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  • Civilization at risk: Is our most important information about to vanish?
  • Here today, gone tomorrow: Disappearing Web sites, unproven storage technologies, obsolete data formats
  • Specific, realistic solutions for individuals, organizations, and society

Your data—and everyone's—is in danger. Discover why—and what to do about it!

Dark Ages II shows why our data is at far greater risk than we've ever imagined—and envisions a frightening future, where so much critical information is lost that civilization itself could collapse. Bryan Bergeron examines how we're storing our most precious data: on Web sites and email servers that could disappear tomorrow; on unproven magnetic and optical media; and in document formats that become obsolete virtually overnight. After projecting the potential impact of massive data loss, Bergeron offers step-by-step techniques you can use to solve the problem in your own home, organization, or enterprise.

  • Why your disks aren't as reliable as you think
  • Who owns your data—and what happens when they stop taking care of it?
  • What's happening to civilization's "paper trail"?
  • Why backups aren't nearly enough
  • Why "pervasive computing" will only make the problems worse
  • What you can do now to ensure the survival of your digital information—and everyone's

This book is a powerful wake-up call for everyone who depends on digital data, including business decision-makers, educators, librarians, researchers, public policy-makers—and you!

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
From your PC to some corporation's faceless mainframe, from yesterday's credit card records to tomorrow's most profound works of art, our lives and societies are increasingly bound up in tangled, scattered webs of data. Will that data survive? Will it remain accessible? What happens if it doesn't? What happens to you? What happens to civilization?

Bryan Bergeron takes on these big questions in Dark Ages II, and his answers will unsettle you. Hard drives fail, CD-Rs deteriorate (and nobody really knows how long today's technologies will last). Web sites go offline (who's responsible for preserving information that's stored on the Net, anyhow?) Formats become obsolete (try reading your old Commodore 64 disks nowadays. Are you sure you'll have a Zip drive in ten years?). Simply put, your data -- and nearly everyone's -- is more fragile than you'd like to believe.

The solution isn't a return to paper: it's careful planning. There are people and organizations who do archiving right. Bergeron shows you how to become one of them -- offering practical plans for preserving your information whether you're an individual graphic artist, a small business, or a retiring CEO. You'll be glad you followed his advice. So will your descendants. (Bill Camarda)

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. He served for nearly ten years as vice president of a New Jersey–based marketing company, where he supervised a wide range of graphics and web design projects. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

From The Critics
Contending that the reliance on digital data storage threatens civilization itself, Bergeron describes ways of protecting important data for businesses, libraries, and individuals. Coverage includes, for example, the transmission of knowledge throughout history, the information technology infrastructure, the psychological significance of nontangible documents, and the economics of network-based data storage. Computer consultant Bergeron teaches at Harvard Medical School and at MIT. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130661074
  • Publisher: Pearson Education
  • Publication date: 9/25/2001
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. 1 History 1
Ch. 1 Language, Writing, and the Collective Memory 3
Pt. 2 Technology 27
Ch. 2 Digital Media and Machines 29
Ch. 3 Rust Never Sleeps 55
Ch. 4 Digital Data Management 89
Pt. 3 Economics 125
Ch. 5 The Digital Economy 127
Ch. 6 Spin Control 157
Pt. 4 Society 191
Ch. 7 Pervasive Data 193
Ch. 8 The Socio-Technologic Future 209
Pt. 5 Solutions 227
Ch. 9 Ensuring the Survival of Digital Data 229
Bibliography 263
Resources 271
Glossary 281
Index 297
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The Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, a letter from a deceased relative, the photo of a long-lost childhood friend, a marriage contract, and a dog-eared Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—all mere marks and symbols on paper—variably represent national treasures, personal mementos, and heirlooms that may span generations or centuries. These objects not only have social, economic, and sentimental value but they also provide a glimpse at the aspirations of an embryonic nation, insight into the social fabric of everyday life, and a window into the minds of the authors.

Letters, photos, books, and other written and printed documents endure because of the durability of the media on which they are recorded, the care with which they are stored and viewed, and, in part, because they can be interpreted without an intermediary. A letter can be held, the texture and color of the paper can appreciated, and, assuming the writing is legible and in a language known to the reader, understood in an instant or pondered over for hours. The reader can then fold the letter and carefully place it in the envelope that was used to mail it decades ago and tuck it away for future reading. To a social scientist, the penmanship or type font, like the paper quality and texture, provide part of the overall impression of the author's mood and aesthetic, as well as the author's access to a typewriter, printer, or other technology.

Today, pen and paper have been largely supplanted by digital computers, LCD displays, and laser printers. Email is increasingly the preferred mode for interpersonal communications, especially in business, and digital signatures hold thesame weight as those made with a pen. Although the quantity of paper used in printing email and other electronic documents has steadily climbed since the introduction of desktop publishing in the 1980s, the majority of electronic documents that are printed find their way to the shredder or recycling bin.

The common practice is to create and store data—whether legal documents, books, computer programs, databases, ordinary text documents, music, photographs, animations, or videos—in a digital form that is not directly observable. That is, the stream of 0's and 1's encoded as magnetic fluctuations in the iron oxide coating on a tape or disc, pits in a plastic CD-ROM or DVD, or the states of the matrix of transistors in a memory stick must be used in conjunction with a complex electro-mechanical intermediary or translator to be experienced. Unlike the case with a hundred-year-old photographic negative, it takes more than holding a warped and dusty CD-ROM up to the light to appreciate the images, programs, or music it once held.

Dark Ages II: When the Digital Data Die is a critical exploration of the vast social, technologic, and economic impact of the Dark Ages that will result if the implicit management of the exponentially increasing pool of data continues along the current trajectory. The book looks at the ephemeral quality of data on the Web, in eBooks, and in email as well as the fleeting durability and lack of enduring standardization of CDs, tapes, memory sticks, and other electronic media. This book explores how, paradoxically, as a technologic society in which knowledge is the medium of business and professional life, we are documenting the majority of our actions and creating intellectual property in what amounts to disappearing ink.

Dark Ages II: When the Digital Data Die is an accessible book, with just enough technical depth to allow an intelligent reader to appreciate the challenges that lie ahead. It provides an overview of the most relevant technologies in enough depth for the reader to understand the social and economic implications that the wide-scale loss of data would have on today's information-dependent, socio-technologic infrastructure.

For easier study, this book is divided into five parts: History, Technology, Economics, Society, and Solutions. Each part provides a freestanding reference for readers with specific needs. For example, the reader interested primarily in the societal factors that favor a second Dark Ages can focus on the Society section. A glossary of terms and abbreviations at the end of the book provides a handy reference for the occasional technical term.

Part I, History, reviews the way in which humanity's store of accumulated knowledge—in the form of oral, painted, inscribed, and written data—has either passed from one generation to the next or was not passed on because of disease, war, religious beliefs, intentional destruction, or benign neglect. A discussion highlights how the current, exponential growth in the socio-technical infrastructure will not continue unabated indefinitely, given that no society in the history of the planet has been able to escape the inevitable waxing and waning of its technological base.

Part II, Technology, explores the concepts of data, information, and knowledge as the lifeblood of our technologic society, explains the loss of data that occurs daily, in personal, corporate, and government settings, and illustrates our society's dependence on data integrity and a robust information technology infrastructure. The exploration continues with the rapid evolution of the personal computer, software applications, media types, and data formats, with a view to a future world in which many of us will work as knowledge brokers who live by our intellectual property holdings that we manage in personal data warehouses.

Part III, Economics, examines the economics of our information infrastructure. It looks at the cost of incessant media format and operating system upgrades that result in the loss of software applications and data. It considers the economic penalties of data loss because of improper collection methods, the ill-conceived changes in corporate strategies, the vicissitudes of the global economy, and the significance of acquisitions and mergers. Consideration is given to the economic ramifications of the recent popularity of centralized and network-based data storage, as well as the business practices, such as data mining, that can extract value from the rising oceans of data.

Part IV, Society, looks at the societal implications of our increasing dependence on a fragile socio-technologic infrastructure. The discussion begins at the level of the individual, where issues include the psychological significance of creating nontangible works like eBooks instead of printed documents, and the way in which life will change as today's professional knowledge workers are transformed into professional knowledge brokers who are paid for their store of easily transferred data and not for their ability to fill an office chair. The exploration then moves to a much larger scale, and illustrates how, unless adequate safeguards are established, the inevitable fluctuations in the political, economic, and natural environments will result in a massive loss of data and a corresponding total disruption of our socio-technical infrastructure.

Part V, Solutions, explores the solutions available to minimize the likelihood of a second Dark Ages, including efforts underway in parts of the government and in some sectors of corporate America that may scale to a national level. This part also explores ways in which individuals can act now to manage and safeguard their personal data warehouse. Given that cities and towns in America have lost decades of public records because of unreadable digital data stored in nonstandard, undocumented formats and that corporations lose millions of records daily due to viruses and benign neglect, the threat of a large-scale, catastrophic data loss is real. Clearly, the Web and other forms of digital information storage and dissemination may have improved our access to data, but the quality and durability of the record we leave behind—even for the immediate future—must be questioned. It's as though, as a society, we're building an amazing information highway but haven't taken the time to think about, and proactively make provision for, the inevitable parking problems that lie ahead.

The purpose of Dark Ages II: When the Digital Data Die is to heighten the reader's awareness of the risks associated with the current practice of entrusting the accumulated personal and public intellectual properties of our society to nameless archivists who work in libraries constructed according to evolving and largely untested architectures that sit on shifting foundations of silicon, rust, and plastic. The aim is neither to create a legion of Luddites nor to disregard the economic and intellectual gains that have been made possible thanks to computerization. Rather, this book should serve as a call to intelligent action through explicit, conscious decisions on how to proceed with the complex socio-technical phenomena that we call the digital revolution. The solutions put forward in this book are offered to readers who are concerned about properly maintaining digital archives, whether for preserving personal data, for securing business, employee, and customer data, or for safeguarding public data in town halls and libraries at risk for catastrophic data loss.

Bryan Bergeron

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