Monthly Archive: October 2012

the durability of paper

I have  book in my library that is 300 years old. It is in French. The book is leather bound. The paper is crisp to the touch, and in very good condition; it has a feel similar to a new dollar bill. What pages there are can easily be read, but since someone has made the book into a safe (with a cubbyhole), not all pages are left in the book. Comparing this book to digital media, how many 30-year-old computer files can still be read? How many emails written have been lost in the digital ether? I lost some books recently when the motherboard was changed out on my Thinkpad Tablet (Android). While I had written a note to the IBM tech who was going to do the repair advising him that I had not been able to get everything backed up before sending it in for warranty service, he did not save my memory. About 25 notebooks I’d been writing in with a digital stylus were lost. Now I’m using a digital notebook program that is easy to backup, but the lesson remains. My paper notebooks, no matter what their age, may take up a lot of space, but they do not self destruct. This robustness of paper has some value. Like photographic negatives or slides, stored properly, it will endure. Digital files, if stored properly, will endure too, but it takes a lot of money and expertise to keep the digital files going in the long term. The technology changes rapidly, and one must keep upgrading the storage media, ad infinitum. Paper can just sit without attention and preserve its contents. The 300-year-old book happens to be easily available on the Internet in digital format. So, at least important or popular works will be preserved digitally for posterity. Still, there is something about paper…