What stands a better chance of surviving 50 years from now, a framed photograph or a 10-megabyte digital photo file on your computer’s hard drive? The framed photograph will inevitably fade and yellow over time, but the digital photo file may be unreadable to future computers–an unintended consequence of our rapidly digitizing world that might ultimately lead to a "digital dark age," reports Science Daily. According to Jerome P. McDonough, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the issue of a looming digital dark age originates from the mass of data spawned by our ever-growing information economy–at last count, 369 exabytes worth of data, including electronic records, tax files, eMail, music, and photos, for starters. (An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes; a quintillion is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes.) The concern for archivists and information scientists like McDonough is that, with ever-shifting platforms and file formats, much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole of inaccessibility. "If we can’t keep today’s information alive for future generations," McDonough said, "we will lose a lot of our culture." Contrary to popular belief, electronic data has proven to be much more ephemeral than books, journals or pieces of plastic art. After all, when was the last time you opened a WordPerfect file or tried to read an 8-inch floppy disk? "Even over the course of 10 years, you can have a rapid enough evolution in the ways people store digital information and the programs they use to access it that file formats can fall out of date," McDonough said. To avoid a digital dark age, McDonough says we need to figure out the best way to keep valuable data alive and accessible by using a multi-prong approach of migrating data to new formats, devising methods of getting old software to work on existing platforms, using open-source file formats and software, and creating data that’s "media-independent"…

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