Nuts & Bolts

Eldercare for Data. Who will be there for your data when your favorite format joins betamax?

In 2002 DVD sales passed VHS. 2006 was the last year a major motion was released on VHS. VHS / DVD combo machines are still in production today. But for most people the VHS cassette is a hopeless sunk cost and that content if still needed will be purchased on another format. We have in essence out lived our ability to access out data on that format. But the overwhelming majority is out of date and past its point of usefulness. But what if it wasn’t. We would have to maintain the means of using it at our own cost. Theoretically a VHS machine won’t stop working so long as electricity is available and there’s a port connect a machine to view it on. But what if our data relies on hardware and software that is fluid and beyond our immediate control. My word documents from college opens only because Microsoft maintained backwards compatibility. But what if they didn’t or they were one of the countless less successful companies and technologies?

Compare the VHS to say scanning all of your financial documents onto a hard drive and digiitzing all of your music through iTunes . Some of the data is far more important (ex. medical records) and the formats and amounts of data are exponentially greater today. How do we manage our personal data through the inevitable evolutions of hardware and software? How do we protect our financial and personal investment in the data and the systems that we choose to access them through (or the systems that are dictated to us).? Without these systems (and the companies that manage them) are data is inaccessible. If I lost my job I could get help via unemployment insurance to help me take care of my basic needs. What protections are there if we were no longer able to pay for a data service? What if that data included medical records or financial records that today do not appear to be important as say rent, but may be very important several years from now? What is the modern, “personal big data” equivalent of storing my old bank statements in a box in the basement? What is the long term responsibility to users of these new SAS provides who are profiting off of our ever growing need to collect and manage our own personal data? My landlord cannot evict me without due process and there are family, community and governmental safety nets. But what about my digital life while my physical life becomes ever more dependent on 1’s and 0’s?

What happens to our data when Dropbox goes out of business? When Microsoft word is no longer the standard or available to open our word docs? What would happen if I couldn’t afford my box account for a year. Paper May age, get mislaid or ruined but there is still a large degree of permanence and personal control over the content of your life. With the rapidly accelerating pace of digitizing and the amount and very desperate types of data (Darwin had his journals and specimens to maintain; I have more file extensions on my hard drive than I can count or comprehend and their utility is more and more interdependent on ever more types of hardware, operating systems, applications, and myriad (often hurried and their dependencies poorly understood. How many open source libraries is
the free web application I’m using write and organize the notes on the great American novel I’m writing using? Who’s responsible for maintaining their successful operation? Who’s accountable if there is a major failure?

We need a long term personal data steward solution. Every system that is sunset they will have an automatic universal migration strategy. Who’s going to provide me data insurance?