Keeping those memories safe.


In many households nowadays, precious memories are stored on computers as digital photos and videos. However, many children today are going to discover in the future that they have no photos or videos from their childhood. PC faults, unreadable CDs, lost USB Flash Drives and faded pictures are only the start of the potential problems for keeping your digital memories safe. Even NASA lost their original video of Armstrong stepping onto the moon. We’ve had to watch poor copies of that famous moment ever since.


The first problem is digital media lifespan. Music CDs have a good lifespan, but it’s not the same for blank CDs that you burn data onto. CD-R discs are susceptible to heat and may degrade within 10 years. The service life of a PC hard drive is typically 6 to 10 years and USB Flash Drives will generally break within 5 years. Photos printed on an inkjet printer might last 100 years provided you use the manufacturer’s ink and paper and keep the photos away from sunlight. However, I’ve seen many digital photos, printed using cheap ink refills, bleached white in only a few months.


The next problem is continually changing format standards. Music and image standards are fairly stable, but video recordings are a different matter entirely. Anyone with a new PC may already have encountered difficulty playing old videos – “Unrecognised File Format” or “This Software is Not Compatible with this Operating System” are favourites.


Finally, the most common form of data loss is that caused by computer users themselves accidentally over-writing or deleting files.


So what can be done? Firstly, organise your data into labelled folders, stored in one central location to simplify finding information. Then burn all your really important files to CD or DVD discs and copy all your documents to an external hard drive using backup software. Use the external drive for regular backups and the DVDs as occasional archives. The truth is no one knows how long that data will last but make sure you have two independent backups. Then every 3 or 4 years check that all your digital data is still playable or viewable and re-copy it onto new media, keeping those memories safe.


© Peter Johnston, ByteSupport Ltd  2010.