Bob Congdon writes on something we’re all living through — the decline “hard media” (paper, LP’s, even CD’s, etc.) and the prevalence of digital media.
From a green perspective, getting rid of all of this hard media is a good thing. Why print out documents when you can read them on your computer? Why should publishers print hundreds of thousands of copies of a newspaper each day to be read once and tossed out? The same with weekly and monthly magazines. Why produce millions of CDs that just end up in landfills?
I agree that the trend is here to stay, but I, personally, am scared to death. I think we’re headed for disaster. The problem is that few of us have an adequate back up regime for all of this data. When disaster hits, and a single disk drive holds all of our downloaded commercial software, our e-books, our electronic documents, our financial data, our music, our photographs, etc., then we’ve lost everything. So what used to require a devastating house fire now will hit unprepared users every time their hard drive fails. We tend to have all our eggs in one basket now and a single failure has now a greater impact.
Sure, we could back everything up. I used to do that. Floppies, ZIP drives, tapes, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, external drives, online backup services, I’ve done them all over the years. The problem is that my data needs keep on increases. Back in 1990 my entire data needs, a few dozen WordPerfect files, could fit on a single floppy disk. Today, a single photograph, in RAW format, can take 10x that amount of storage. Add to this music files (at high bit rates), video files (now in Hi Definition, of course), and so on, and I’m nearing a terabyte of data at home. Forget about backing up to 125 double-sided DVD-R’s. Forget about online backups — the latency would make a backup take a month. We’re not going to change the speed of light so that option will never scale. All I can really do is archive to a portable hard drive, and even then I have only space for the most recent snapshot, not a history of recent backups. This is fine for recovering from a system failure, but I’d be in trouble if I suffered serious data or file corruption and that made it into my backups before I noticed.
So, yes, we use less paper. But my unread ebook folder gets larger and larger. My unlistened to play list is longer and longer. My unwatched shows on Tivo continue to accumulate. I have no assurance that I will catch up before data disaster hits. I know I should be feeling green, but instead I’m feeling blue. I could sure use some quantum storage right around now.