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Tue, 17th Feb 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Vint Cerf, VP of Google and fondly dubbed ‘one of the fathers of the internet', has said we need to start preserving our digital data before our history fades away.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Jose, California, Cerf said technology is advancing quickly and soon old files will be inaccessible.

He says, although we document more of our lives than ever before with emails, tweets, websites and photos, we stand to lose our history as data disappears.

He says like the Dark Ages the 21st century could be an information black hole and future generations might never really know us.

Cerf says it's a ‘huge problem' to preserve and run software over long periods of time and there is a ‘great burden' to find a way to still access digital formats such as photograph files in thousands of years.

“Sometimes the standards we use to produce those objects fade away and are replaced by other alternatives and then software that is supposed to render images can't render older formats, so the images are no longer visible.

“This is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs because they are just files of bits. The file system doesn't know how to interpret them, you need software to do that. Now you've lost the photograph in effect," Cerf says.

Fujifilm NZ estimates that New Zealanders take around 1.2 billion snaps on their smartphones every year, and approximately 20 million photos are lost forever each year.

“On average, we each store around 1,200 photos on our phone,” says Peter Bonisch, Fujifilm NZ sales and marketing manager.

“International trends indicate that smartphones will soon become our primary image storing device, ahead of computers, tablets and digital cameras, yet fewer than 10% of those photos are ever printed.

“We scroll through and reminisce, and share a few photos on social media, but most of them stay on our phone. So if that disappears, so do our photos. People are losing precious reminders of significant events, their friends and their family history,” says Bonisch.

A solution must be found before our digital lives fades away and we lose our history, Cerf says.

“If we want to preserve [our digital lives], we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future," he says.

Cerf recommends people print meaningful documents such as treasured family pictures before they are lost on outdated operating systems.

“If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.' he says

Cerf says it's unclear what would be the most important data of our generation so it's important to preserve as much as possible along with photos.

According to Cerf, as well as printing documents, a solution could be to preserve the digital format as well as details of the software and operating system needed to access it so it can be recreated in the future.