Digital Dark Age

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Digital decay is a term used to describe the loss of formatting or accessibility of a digital artifact. Examples include tapes, microfiche, VHS, CD-ROMs and the sourcing of the equipment required to play or run them.

The central dilemma of information storage is outlined by Paul Conway in his essay, Preservation in the Digital World[1]Conway points out that the human capacity to record information has increased exponentially over time while the longevity of the media used to store the information has decreased equivalently. Much of the information sent back and forth between humanity is now digital. It now resides in electric pulses instead of entrenched into stone. This data, if not kept alive, will decay into nothingness.

This issue lead Supercomputer designer Danny Hillis to suggest the possibility that our era might "be a maddening blank to future historians -- a Dark Age -- because nearly all of our art, science, news, and other records are being created and stored on media that we know can't outlast even our own lifetimes".[2]

In Escaping the Digital Dark Age, Stuart Brand points out that "Information lives in two major dimensions - space and time", but that while "the space dimension for data will keep exploding...the time dimension is shrinking".[3] because of the fact that information is not stable. It keeps transferring itself into different formats.

To prevent the tragic loss of digital data, The Long Now Foundation is working to etch information into high resolution metal disks and permastructures.[4] Together with this Rosetta Digital Language Archive, The Long Now Foundation created The Rosetta Disk, an object intended to be a durable archive of human languages.[5] Along with the Long Server[6] and the Long Viewer, The Rosetta Disk is of one facet of The Long Now Foundation's 10,000-Year Library.[7]


  1. Conway, Paul. Preservation in the Digital World. Preservation Department, Yale University Library. March 1996. Accessed Jan 2011.
  2. Hillis, Danny in Escaping The Digital Dark Age. By Stewart Brand. Published in Library Journal vol. 124. Issue 2, p46-49.
  3. Escaping The Digital Dark Age. By Stewart Brand. Published in Library Journal vol. 124. Issue 2, p46-49
  4. Brand, Stewart. About. The Long Now Foundation. Accessed Jan 2011.
  5. Concept. The Rosetta Project. A Long Now Foundation Library of Human Language.
  6. Long Server.
  7. Brand, Stewart. The 10,000-Year Library. Published April 11, 2001. Accessed Jan 2011.