Sanders: It's not limited to one moment in time like Y2K is. It's less dramatic, but more insidious. It's more quiet, it's a more silent loss. One day more and more will disappear invisibly until we realize it's hopelessly gone.One casualty could be Sanders' film itself, which he shot on digital cameras and put together on computers.
Horton: Agencies have in the last 10 or 20 years rushed into information technology, government entities have - without archives being able to keep up. Electronic records undoubtedly have been lost, because of the difference in the amount of money going into the production of them, and the amount of money going into the preservation of them.The other problem is this: there really is no way to save computer files permanently; and herein lies a great irony: as we get more efficient at creating information, we're increasingly lousy at saving it. Abby Smith is program director for the Council on Library and Information Resources in Washington, DC.
Smith: The most technologically advanced form of communication is also the most fragile. Old fashioned paper is far more durable than electronic files and of course clay tablets and stone are the most durable of all.The information most at risk is that which is created on computers, with no pre-existing hard copies. These days, federal agencies are under a paper-saving mandate to conduct 75 percent of their business by computer.
Thibodeau: There are no proven solutions anywhere in the world for preserving most kinds of things people are creating on computers today. The only safe assumption you can make about most of the electronic records being generated anywhere is that they're going to become obsolete in a matter of a few years, and within a relatively short number of a years (short from an archival perspective) they will so obsolete that there's no way to get to them.You'd think that because computers make it easy to produce perfect copies, they would be a preservationist's dream. But the stuff doesn't last. Unlike paper or film, you can't just shine a little light on the object to see what's there. You need software to decode the bits, but software becomes outdated and hard to find. So does computer hardware. And the media that carry the bits - diskettes, CD's, hard drives and tapes - can deteriorate within five or 10 years.
Rothenberg: The greatest dangers are in the areas of scientific information, things like toxic waste information. You would like to know if 50 years, or even a thousand years, things like "Where did we bury the plutonium?"Heroic data-recovery efforts in the last few years saved records from early NASA space missions, and the 1960s census. Rothenberg says so far, we've been lucky.
Rothenberg: I think we're at a state where there is a lot or risk, but no real disasters yet. Maybe we're awaiting the first serious disaster before people take this seriously.What else could happen if we don't figure out a way to preserve computer records? We could lose scientific data like research on the El Nino weather phenomenon; or historically significant records of the Clinton administration; or electronic documents that trace the history of the Internet.