Vellum beats Silicon

Back in 1986, as a celebration of the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, the census ordered by William the Bastard (that’s William the Conqueror to Sasenachs), Britain spent millions to compile text, images and, maps, audio and video recordings, as a snap shot of Britain, and stored them on laser discs as part of the Domesday Book project.

They created discs that are almost unreadable today, not because of laser rot, but because of obsolete equipment. The irony of this, as the article points out, is that the medieval manuscript is quite readable today, if you know the language and the script. There’s even an expensive archive-quality facsimile, not to mention the Bayeux tapestry.

At my old job I used to hoard working but old hardware—I knew where to get access to an old IBM Display writer, old 5 1/2 inch floppy disc drives, I had an SE under my desk to help faculty with old 3 1/2 inch Mac 800 and 400K disks, and my spouse and I have carefully archived docs and installers for a variety of old programs with proprietary data formats, not to mention things like Syquest and DAT drives.

There’s a sick irony in that cuneiform and manuscripts are more durable than digital media. But digital decay and technical obsolescence are real problems, problems we’ve known about for years.