What are the digital dark ages?

Blog Annabel Allum

What are the digital dark ages?

In the grand scheme of things, computerised systems haven’t been around for that long. The first built electronic computerised system was the ENIAC built in 1945 and the first “personal computer” was the Micral N, built in 1973. Since then, we’ve experienced a technological boom.

If we compare the timeline of computer invention to the potential that computers are theorised to achieve in the future, I think it’s safe to say that we are in the very early stages of initial development.

The term “digital dark ages” derived as a reflection on what was a period of time in humankind (called the dark ages) where little of the documentation or historical information has survived today. As a result, not much is known about these periods of time. A lot of research and history of these eras revolve around theory, akin to piecing together tiny puzzle pieces for a jigsaw that is vastly missing.


The impact of evolving technologies

If you ask the average person to decipher a script of Old English or even hieroglyphics, understandably, I doubt they would be able to translate. We, as human beings, have evolved and developed to new languages. Similarly, as technology develops, the systems used to read data also evolves. Introducing technological obsolescence; old file formats and storage mediums are no longer compatible with systems or software of the current day. For instance, does your new laptop have the ability to use and read an old floppy disk without additional hardware?

Instead, what about data stored directly on the computer’s internal hard drive or on the cloud? Well, even the file formats we use become obsolete over time as the software we use for creating, reading and interacting with files adapt. To bring in another example, does anyone remember using Microsoft Works (.WPS)? A file format once popularly used and now no longer easily accessible.

Not only this, but computer hardware and software are also susceptible to corruption, failure or loss. Even if you have an accessible file format stored on your laptop, it is still vulnerable to potential damage and loss.


Data loss, corruption and obsolescence risks

There is a real risk that recent and future digital content will become inaccessible in years’ time. This can cause gaps in knowledge and history, with only often unreliable human memory or word of mouth to fill in details. Or even worse, only a false narrative is preserved by a third party.

To put this into an example, let’s say a pharmaceutical company releases a drug (in pill form) into the market today, and years later they find themselves exploring the case to develop and release an injectable version of the same drug. In developing the injectable version, they would have to relocate and read their original trial records.

Now, what happens if they were to locate their records but only to be met with an unfortunate circumstance of old digital storage mediums incompatible with current systems and file degradation causing missing pieces of data. That would mean years of setbacks and costly new trials.

While this example is fictional, the aspect of data loss is possible if we continue ignoring the problem. Without action to protect valuable data being generated each day, we could face the harsh consequences later in life.

Today, many of us have already faced this reality. I recently attempted to digitise my old VHS tapes containing childhood memories, only to find that some of the footage had been damaged beyond repair.


The importance of Digital preservation.

Digital preservation is an ongoing process of ensuring digital assets remain accessible, authentic and usable over time. It involves strategies, technologies and best practices that prevent data loss, degradation and obsolescence to thereby safeguard digital assets for the long-term.

Implementing preservation strategies can save us from the so called “digital dark ages” and keep valuable data always within reach when we need it. This can pave the way for learning and progress within technology and research.

At Arkivum, we provide a leading digital archiving and preservation solution that safeguards valuable digital assets for long-term access and use. Get in contact with us today to future-proof your data.


Annabel Allum

Annabel is a Marketing Executive at Arkivum and joined the business in 2022. She is responsible for managing various operational marketing activities including email, CRM, website management and campaign support.

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