Information extinction at the speed of internet (rantish)


Over the weekend I had a bit of a nasty surprise: I couldn’t download the most recent version of Turbo Tax because it requires OS X 10.6 or later. I still run 10.5.

If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this is bullshit. My computer is only five years old. There’s no reason for it to be considered obsolete and I shouldn’t have to order and install a new operating system just to do my taxes. (Note: please don’t suggest alternate programs I could use.) And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Some time ago, my wife told me that she was incredibly proud that my books were going to be in the Library of Congress, because that meant they would last a long long time. In response, I said something to the effect of they’re on the internet, too, I think, and that should last even longer. Unfortunately, I no longer believe that to be true.

How many old filetypes are impossible to read now? How many types of physical media are worthless because no one has the disk drives to read them? Much of my early writing was done on a Brother WP75 and saved on 3.5 inch diskettes. Here’s a pic:


I dug it out because I came this close to donating it to charity. That machine was the bridge between a typewriter and an actual computer (my first real computer came from Gateway in 1994 and I had it so long that there was literally duck tape over parts of the case).

See the diskettes on there? Once the Brother stops working or I give it away, they become unreadable to me. Maybe I could find someone to take the files off and convert them, but that would be an iffy thing, and probably not cheap. (Luckily, it’s just early work and not important.) In all seriousness, the best kind of archive I could have of these would be in paper.

Note also John Scalzi’s recent post about his newest computer acquisition: no DVD drive. He doesn’t miss it because he doesn’t use DVDs, but I still do. I use them all the time, to watch movies, to play games, and to share large files

Speaking of large files, I copied hours and hours of home movies from a box full of mini-DV tapes onto a hard drive, and now that hard drive is being backed up to an online service. There’s so much data to save that I started the backup on January 3rd and, as of today, it’s only about 55% done. This shit is going to be going on until summer time, I kid you not.

And yet, when I’m an old man, will I be able to watch these videos? Will I be able to find a program that recognizes and mp4 or .dv? Worse, will I be able to buy a special adapter that will allow the external hard drive (with its ancient USB connector) to connect to whatever system is in vogue at the moment?

Will my son? I don’t doubt that he’ll have the storage space to keep them–in all likelihood, he’ll have a ring on his finger that he can download all 600+GB of data with room to spare. But will he be able to actually look at them, or show them to his own kids so they can see what we were like? Will he be able to read my old manuscripts?

It pisses me off. There’s such a rush to always have the New! and the Shiny! that things become obsolete even while they continue to function. Yes, I know it’s a way to sell things. Yes, I know companies are hunting for every bit of loose change rattling around in tech-happy early adopters’ back account. But they aren’t the only customers out there.

I’m a customer, too. I don’t want new and shiny. I want practical and long-lasting. I want this shit to make sense. Don’t phase out old media just because there’s a new supposedly-but-maybe-not-better way to do it (don’t even talk to me about “the cloud”). Don’t change operating systems so often that perfectly good computers can’t even run basic software (or watch embedded YouTube videos, or play silly games, or whatever).

Backwards compatibility, people. I want it, and I’m not the only one.