TALKING IMAGES 13 – VINT CERF FORESEES A DIGITAL DARK AGE

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Vint Cerf (photo credit: theguardian.com)

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Vint Cerf is an internet pioneer, indeed the world knows him as one of the “fathers of the internet”.  He is a vice president of Google, and his career and many honours are simply stupendous – see the link given above.  So, here is an eminently knowledgeable person of the digital age, someone who really does know what he’s talking about.  And, recently, just what has he been talking about?

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Well, he foresees the 21st century becoming a “Digital Dark Age”.  So what are Dark Ages?  They are periods in history about which little is known, due to there being very little contemporary written material of any type, and few solid artifacts (including stone buildings) that have survived  – so that archaeologists have very little to go on when trying to reconstruct what life at the time was like.  In England, such a Dark Age occurred between the departure of the Romans in 410AD, and the time when the Anglo Saxons started getting things together again, say around 600AD.

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The point is that in those Dark Ages, very little is known about events and about life in general – and, for those in the future, Cerf can see the same happening to the 21st century – the times we live in.

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His core worry derives from the fact that we keep the vast majority of our documents, images, family and life records, etc – the details of our life and existence –  on disk or online and that, because of constantly ongoing updates to both computer software and hardware, many records of this century may be inaccessible in the future.  He makes the point that new versions of soft- and hardware are not always “backwards compatible”,  i.e. that they cannot always read electronic information saved and stored by earlier versions – which renders those earlier versions inaccessible.

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Such thoughts may seem exaggerated and unlikely, but let’s take a simple example – the floppy disk.  When I started being trained to use computers 25 years ago, we stored all of our data and exercises on floppy disks.  Twenty five years on, how many of you who are reading this still use floppy disks?  I have never used them since those far off days, and I bet you don’t use them now either.  I imagine that there are still people around – IT specialists and hobbyists – who still have the means to copy information from floppies onto more modern media – but I’m only talking of 25 years here.  How will things be 250 years from now, or 2,500???  Will floppies’ only be known as rare and costly coasters on coffee tables – or exhibits in museums?

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And then again – niche market I know – but Nikon have stopped supporting their Capture NX2 image processing software so that, should I opt for a camera newer than the D800, I’ll have to think about other manufacturers’ products – I don’t want to go there but, probably, it’ll be Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.

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.MAKING HARD COPIES

And so hard copies are a safer bet for your treasured memories because they are not affected by these IT compatibility problems.  OK, longevity problems can still occur – its best to have your photos printed on good quality, archival paper etc and stored away from light and raised temperatures – but, still, having something solid and tangible may be a better bet than having that material stored electronically.  Or, then again, maybe having things stored both ways – electronic and hard copies –  is best – I don’t know.

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But Cerf’s worry is that we are making very few hard copies these days.  I’ve seen families with all their treasured family photos stored on mobile phones without any back ups, leaving these images completely vulnerable to loss by theft, accidents or phone breakdown. 

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And, as the Editor of Amateur Photographer magazine also noted recently, we are all printing less.  Well, no wonder really, since the cost of printer inks has gone through the roof – its now cheaper for me to buy an (admittedly cheap but still completely adequate) printer + scanner + photocopier with a full set of inks than it is to buy a new set of inks for this machine!

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And, as I mentioned in this post, such is the value of the inks market to some printer companies that they try to covertly ensure that we buy only their own, proprietary inks.

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MY SOLUTIONS TO THESE PROBLEMS – BACK UPS AND PHOTOBOOKS

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What do I do to avoid these nasties?  Well, two things.  First, I counter these problems a little by making regular back ups of my images, etc onto external drives.  But I only do this monthly, which is not really often enough – and I don’t have copies of these back ups “off site”, i.e. they’re all stored in my home, so that if my home burns down I’m ******** – ouch!  And neither do I use cloud storage, at the moment anyway.

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BUT, my main method – both for backing up my images as well as for ENJOYING THEM – is to turn them into photobooks that I make via Blurb, one of many companies producing such wares.  Here are some quick pictures of these photobooks, to give you an idea of them.  These are only rough pictures, not necessarily totally in focus, and with reflections off the paper in some cases – I took them while sitting in my armchair, in our bay window, using a wide angle lens and with the book balanced on my knees.  In most cases, an idea of scale is given by my left thumb!  You can click onto the images to see them at larger size in a separate window.

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I’ve always used Blurb because I find their colour and (most importantly!) their black and white reproduction of images to be good, and I very much like their heavy, highest quality paper.  Such quality doesn’t come cheap of course –  a hard back coffee table book, 12 inches (30 cms) square, containing over 100 images and accompanying text, might cost £90, even using the money saving offers that Blurb regularly sends me.  But I have something tangible, something I can hold in my hand, something that I can relax in a comfy chair with and, usually accompanied by a beer, feel good about – and, as I say, I do enjoy the heavy and very robust, high quality paper (even though opting for this paper is more expensive).

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This is nowhere near a total solution, of course, because as I say its not fireproof, or immune from theft or accidents.  But it is distinctly enjoyable – far better than looking at images on any sort of electronic screen.

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The problems of image and information longevity are confronting us all.  Whatever it is that you do about them , I urge you to get on and do it.  Vint Cerf knows exactly what he’s talking about.

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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

14 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 13 – VINT CERF FORESEES A DIGITAL DARK AGE

  1. Pingback: Frailty of digital storage | athyfotographic

  2. krikitarts says:

    This is a matter that needs real attention from all of us, and it’s very good of you to help to raise it on our horizons. Since I migrated to the digital world in 2000, I have produced fine prints of my favorite images sporadically–more frequently at first and less so in later years, with the idea of leaving portfolios (in archival storage boxes) of what I have considered to be my best work. I’ve seen your posts on your Blurb books and paid attention at the time, but the need for producing something lasting in that form apparently didn’t impress itself enough on me to put it on one of my front burners. Now, however, with quite a bit of free time on my hands, I am resolving to rectify this deficiency. First I plan to make the best archival prints I can of my best stuff to date, keep a record of them, and produce however many books it takes to accommodate them, and then add others as I gather enough worthy new ones to fill them. Our daughters and their families are best friends and now (and likely/hopefully) forevermore will continue to) live within easy walking distance of each other, and so will be able to share the legacy of this labor of love. Also, I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do with the treasures I have to work with! Thanks so much for this prod, Adrian!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Gary, thank you very much – very glad to be helpful! When you say you’re going to make books, are you talking about “traditional” photograph albums ie which the prints are stuck into, or making photobooks ie like those made by Blurb, where the images’ source is electronic? Or both? Or something else? I’m not at all suggesting that any choice is inferior, but am just unsure of what you mean.

      If you are thinking of Blurb, then my reply below here to Ashley Lily Scarlett has some details of what I do, in case this is useful. Again if it would be useful, I can email you some photos of pages, to give you idea >>> in fact, I’ve had an idea >>> when ordering a book from Blurb it is also possible to buy a pdf version for a minimal cost >>> if I can get one of these onto an email, I’ll send you one. Adrian

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  3. athyfoto says:

    Hello Adrian,
    That’s a name from the past Grabbed my attention, Vint Cerf. He was the prime mover in the creation of the transmission control protocol and the internet protocol referred to as the TCP/IP protocols. I read a lot about the D.A.R.P.A project while studying the history of the internet. The internet came as a direct result of the Russians launching Sputnik. I am digressing though, during my studies I wrote to Vint Cerf via email and received a reply, which was great since he was also involved in the creation of what we now know as the email system.

    Regarding the way we keep and store our information, documents, photos or whatever it is a worry. I recently had a laptop brought to me to see if I could fix it because all the owners photographs were on it. “Can you get my photos back for me?” was the plea. Unfortunately the HD drive was dead. Not just a bit dodgy with enough life left in it to rescue some files buy gone.

    No backups exist, just a few prints that they had made. I have removed the platter from the drive, maybe at some point I may be able to put it into another drive and slave it into my computer to try to get them back but I don’t hold out much hope.

    I also use Blurb and have been doing so for a while, I think 2009 was when I made my first book with them and I usually make one each year. I have another one already constructed in Lightroom waiting to go. Because I only do one a year they are quite big books and they don’t come cheap. The selection process for images to go into the books a good fun though.

    One of my favourite photographers, Joel Meyrowitz, kind of made the same point as Cerf after the 9/11 attacks in New York. He went down to the the site to make some pictures, a record of events. I am paraphrasing now but he said that while shooting his pictures a lady cop shouted at him “NO PICTURES, NO PICTURES!”. He turned to the cop and said . . . “LADY, NO PICTURES – NO HISTORY!” He later was made official photographer at ground zero.

    We do need to write down our thought in diaries, print our pictures into books, albums or frames. We need a record of events in a form that we can see and touch and feel rather that leaving them as ones and zeros on media that WILL fail at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Wow, Frank, this post has certainly provoked some lengthy replies – which is all to the good as far as I’m concerned >>> thank you for your thoughts too! Your knowledge of the internet certainly outweighs mine – and I’m fascinated to learn just how fundamental Vint Cerf’s contributions have been. I’ve always thought that my parents’ generation lived through vast technological change – but the changes that have occurred in our lifetimes are vast too.

      And good to meet another Blurb enthusiast! And as with me >>> large books and they don’t come cheap! I hadn’t realised that Lightroom offered the facilities to compile these books but I know just what you mean about the enjoyment of selecting the images. As well as for myself, I’ve given some of the books I’ve done as presents – including ones for two American WordPress bloggers. Its especially good to give books that contain pictures of the recipients and their family, it adds a very personal touch.

      I agree totally with your final paragraph too – trouble is I suppose, such things are far too easily put off until tomorrow in our “busy modern world” – but making more Blurb books is something I’ll certainly be doing. Thank you again. Adrian

      Liked by 1 person

      • athyfoto says:

        Yes Lightroom has a Book Module that connects directly to Blurb, not quite so flexible as BookSmart on the Desktop but it is so much easier in Lightroom. You can modify images already in the book on the fly within Lightroom.

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        • Adrian Lewis says:

          Well I’ve stuck with BookSmart – having no alternative – and have found it fine. And there’s an upgrade to BookSmart now too, which I haven’t tried, sticking with what I know – or should that read, being old and conservative??? Its good to talk to another Blurb enthusiast! Thank you! Adrian

          Like

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    I’ve had this conversation with a few people and it worries me, I have to say, how much of both our history and our creativity is being consigned to the electronic side. I love my computer. I love the modern gadgetry.. but I like to hold things in my hands too… especially the memories of family and friends… like my mother’s manuscripts, the old letters, photographs… things that outlast the changing teechnologies and hold a little of the soul of their maker.
    I suppose that is why I publish all our books in solid form as well as ebooks… and why I love the idea of photobooks too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Oh yes, a little of the soul of their maker, absolutely right, Sue! Images on screen are fine and bright, but they’re intangible – and then gone the moment we switch the electricity off. And, yes, I think you’re absolutely right about publishing in solid form – I hear that Kindles and so on are not making quite the dent in the books market that had been expected – I’d certainly far rather have a solid book in my hand – something to look at, yes, but also to feel the heft and textures of, to hear the turn of the pages, and “to smell book” too! Thanks for your thoughts, Sue! Adrian

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  5. Thanks for this post, Adrian, not least of all for the information regarding Blurb.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Ashley, I’m glad this is relevant and useful – thank you! In case this is of further use, here’s what I do with Blurb books – but you may have different ideas. I download Blurb software that enables me to compile my book on my computer. Then, when the book is ready and thoroughly checked, this software connects me to Blurb itself, the book is uploaded, I choose my options, and pay. The book is then delivered by courier.

      I use Large Square books (30cm square) so that I can present portrait and landscape format photos – there are also books that are purely landscape or purely portrait. I go for hard covers, with imagewrap, which means there’s an image on the front cover, and another on the back. I tried having the dust jacket option but that wasn’t so classy or strong. The (expensive but excellent) paper is Proline Pearl Photo. And I also buy a pdf version of the book, its very cheap, which I download almost immediately after paying for the paper book. Hope this is useful. Any questions about Blurb – just fire away! Adrian 🙂

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  6. paula graham says:

    Yes, Adrian..it is a true dilemma to know what to do with all one’s stuff. Like you I have all Raw files on 2 external Hard drives ,updated all the time and not permanently on puter, and one with neighbour in case house burns down!, but only Updated ones/twice a year. I have come to the conclusion that when I die, that will be it, as my family is not interested enough, I think, to keep it all and sort it. So…I just do not worry about it too much…if my Hard drives get old, I buy some new ones and copy the lot over to those and leave it at that.
    I now only like massive prints (A1 or A2) and they are way to expensive and I certainly do not feel I need to fill the walls of my house with them.
    For me, we are now in the digital age; this blog, and wonderful photo sites..it is enough for me, I know I could print or have prints made if I felt the need to.
    I quite understand that many people Love prints , so do I,..but…and so it goes on!!!
    You raised an interesting topic anyway, and I wonder what others have to say about the subject.
    For me, my happiest moment, the best way to step out of myself , is, when actually taking the shots, pressing the shutter,…the hunter gathering a price bounty!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Paula, thank you for your thoughts. I’m with you in not expecting my family, such as it is, to have interest enough to sort out my pictures after I die, but the Blurb books will be there and hopefully they’ll find some sort of home. I don’t think it worries me, there will, after all, be nothing I can do about it – or am I yearning for some degree of immortality, however limited???

      Like you, I do enjoy being out taking pictures – I think its the feeling that I know, that should I see something visually appealing, that I can have a good crack at capturing it, not merely seeing it in a fleeting manner.

      But I do also derive a lot of pleasure from the production of images from the raw files, the cropping, rotations and processing, I love the creativity of that part too. Thank you again for your reply. Adrian

      Liked by 1 person

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