Johannes Goebel | Expiry date for digital bits
Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens from the summit of the Dom (above Randa, Valais)
Archiving between magnetic fields, the Cloud and stone
Wed, September 28, 2016 6 pm CEST, Lecture

Family photos, scientific data, art videos, text, poems, financial data, documentation, websites and archives – We are happy to believe that everything that is digital or digitalised can be set aside perfectly for the future, as it is saved in a »universal code«. That it can be copied at will without loss as, well, a bit is a bit. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Leaving aside the continual and accelerated change of hardware and software, just the physical durability of a bit is far more limited than we want to accept.

We have centuries and millennia of experience using materials like stone, wood, paper, canvas, records and photographic film material to pass on stories, images and knowledge. However, the bits, with which we now encode everything, and the carriers, on which we keep them – like magnetic hard drives rotating on delicate ball-bearings, magnetic data tapes, optical data carriers or solid state memory – are fleeting in comparison to other materials, virtually incontrollable and very laborious in their long-term protection.

There is no protection of continual follow-on financing for more non-commercial digital archives that have been created in the last 20 years. But this is absolutely crucial to preserve the collected bits. As a result, these archives have the durability of the digital generation, in which they are created – i.e. a fraction of the duration of a human generation. A digital archive is in no way comparable with a library, an analogue film collection or a vinyl collection.

As well as a cultural context and the present technical archiving options, this lecture will present a concrete and very cost-effective technical archiving concept for digital documents, which is based on a radical assessment of the given situation of digital archives on on practical experiences with digital archiving since the middle of the 1980s. This concept can keep data accessible without maintenance and continual costs for many decades. It is not a miracle cure. Instead, it is a completely direct »brute force approach«, which almost every institution or company can use for its own data.

This concept is based on research in the ZKM | Music and Acoustics Institute, Karlsruhe for the creation of the IDEAMA (International Digital Electro-Acoustic Music Archive) between 1989 and 1995. It was further developed and implemented between 2014 and 2016 at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the USA in order to provide the best possible back-up of the video archive of the EMPAC at the lowest cost.

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Karlsruhe