The Data Decay Apocalypse

Illustration for article titled The Data Decay Apocalypse

It’s said that a man is just a twelve year old that shaves.

I’m an exception to that rule. Because I don’t shave.

As a thirty-one year old man, I still like a lot of the same things I liked in middle school. I still love professional wrestling. I still play video games. And it follows that I still play wrestling video games.


When WWE 2k16 came out, I wasted hours customizing my own wrestlers, tournaments, and whatever else. For months, it was my go-to mindless activity when I just needed to veg out.

A couple weeks ago, I popped the disc into my XBox 360 and fired it up. But when the title screen loaded, it was accompanied by a scary-looking error screen.


“Save data is corrupt. Create new data?”

I had already known it was completely meaningless, but I was still pissed that all the time I had spent on this game was down the toilet. All because the information coded onto my hard drive lost a couple digits.


And sure, it’s not really that big a deal. It’s just a stupid video game (emphasis on stupid).

But the tragic truth is that wrestling video games aren’t the only targets of digital decay. Every single piece of digital information is subject to degradation. And in a world that is rapidly moving away from analog media, that’s bad news.


Once upon a time, every picture you took ended up in your hands. Today, maybe 1 in 100,000 photos ends up printed. The record shelf of yesteryear has been replaced with hard drives and streaming libraries. Most of our videos end up hosted online on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

For example, I got my first digital camera in 2001. It was a cheap Polaroid point and shoot that required its own software to get the pictures onto my computer. It also took short video clips, which I absolutely loved as a thirteen-year-old.


Recently, I found my childhood computer in my mom’s storage unit. It boots up, but all of the videos I took of my friends skateboarding were completely trashed. Some of them opened and played with glitches. Others wouldn’t open at all.

While I was able to save some of them through a hard drive recovery service, some of them were completely lost to time.


On the other hand, I have a video tape of my family’s old home videos. There are some tracking issues, but my fourth birthday party is still in tact.

Ironically, I just spent a few hours to digitize these tapes onto my computer.

And as our world trends more and more toward digitization, we run the risk of losing our data entirely. To avoid this, make it a point to create analog representations of meaningful memories. Order prints of your favorite Instagram pictures. Burn CDs of your favorite albums (or hey, buy vinyl).


As bulky and archaic as your grandma’s boxes of photo albums, film strips, and records might be, that shelf space is a small price to pay to keep from losing your memories forever.

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