Preserving the Present

Old 120 Film
Image by jaqian via Flickr

The past is easy.  We’ve photographic archives, film archives, albums and boxes full of old snapshots to look through. Back in the day, photography was important and something to be treasured.  Now, every phone has a camera, every camera has an 8-gig memory card, and everything gets snapped, stored and forgotten.

But…  How many computers today can read a floppy disc?  How many computers have the right port for a Zip100 drive?  Even if you can get the files on to the new computer, do you have the software to read it?  A recent example here at work was a presentation created in an old version of Powerpoint.  We had to install Office 2000 onto a PC in order to open the file, save it as a more recent version that Office 2007 could even begin to understand.  How many people are going to have this stuff lying around?  I used Zip100s back in the 1990s and still have a drive, but then I’m a geek.

Okay, so you save your photos – you back up the memory card from the camera, store them on your computer.  If the computer dies, you’ve lost them.  So you back everything from the computer up onto an external hard drive – better make sure there’s a way to back that up.  And you’d better test these backups – there’s nothing more painful than the knowledge that you’ve backed everything up but you’ve no way to restore from that backup.

Image via Wikipedia

I was talking to the proprietor of one of our local photography shops recently, looking for some 120 film for my Holga camera.  He’s seen the physical film side of his business drop to virtually nothing as the years have gone by. But people don’t realise that printouts from their home printers will fade if they’re not looked after.  That CDs degrade over time, as do DVDs (and don’t get me started on what happens when a toddler gets their hands on your CD collection!)

He worries that the current, digital, generation won’t have the memories to look back on, the photographs saved or printed in such a way that they will last.  Backups of backups, archives moved to the latest storage format.  And come The Event, when the world’s computers cease to function, what then?

Of course old photos fade, old films degrade, but they’re physical items that people can work on to recover.


  • Get the photos you want to keep printed professionally, and get at least 2 copies.
  • Whatever the latest in personal storage is, get one and make sure your files are all on there.
  • Make use of the cloud  – but not as a primary backup.  Put photos in Flickr, Picassa, a folder on Dropbox.
  • Test your backups regularly – better to know that they don’t work straight away than when you’re relying on them.
Over to you…  What are you doing to preserve the present for future generations?
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