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“The short answer is, as much as possible,” Herskovitz said. Certainly the date, location, and the identity of the subject or subjects.
You might think the latest technology would best preserve images, but in fact it’s the other way around. “Those photo prints, if they’re correctly preserved, they’re going to last 100 years, if not 500 years,” Hoover said.
In contrast, newer media, such as magnetic tape, are more ephemeral, and the equipment for running them is constantly being upgraded or slipping into obsolescence. Consider what’s happened to cassette tapes, VHS videos and floppy disks, and realize that flash drives, memory sticks, CDs and DVDs will eventually meet the same fate.
“There’s no way that you will be able to look at a digital image produced today on the technology that will be available in 100 years, or probably 50 or 25, or maybe even 15,” Herskovitz said.
Still, we’re storing more and more of our memories on digital devices, because they make our photos and videos easy to capture, to view, to edit, to share, to post online, to slip into a pocket or purse. So what’s the best way to preserve them?
Ideally, store digital images in at least two places: a physical place and a virtual place. “Just making two copies, and having one away from the other one, that’s a simple thing to do,” Hoover said.
For the physical storage, a good external hard drive for under $150 can hold more data than a stack of CDs. Though it will eventually need replacing, it will last longer than a disc and is less vulnerable to damage in the meantime. The virtual place, also known as “the cloud,” means an internet storage site where you can upload your photos and access them from any computer or internet-connected device, free or for a small fee depending on how much storage you need. There are many such sites, including Dropbox, Apple’s iPhoto and Google’s Picasa. You want your online server to be secure, stable and trustworthy, so it’s probably best to go with well-known and well-regarded services; if in doubt, research online reviews or ask friends for recommendations.
“Never rely on just having it on the cloud — have a hard drive backup,” Hoover said. “But never rely on just a hard drive backup. The dog could pee on your hard drive, or chew on it, which happened to me, or it could be lost in a fire, or it could freeze.”
What fancy gadgets will we, or our descendants, use to store and view photographs and videos? Good luck predicting. British researchers recently devised a way to encode texts, photos and audio files and store them on strands of synthetic DNA. They say the technology could be available to consumers within 10 years. Who knows — maybe eventually we’ll just have them implanted directly into our brains.
But you might not want to wait until then to do something about those closets.
Katy Read · 612-673-4583