Print it or lose it, says Google boss

Google Vice President and “father of the internet” Vint Cerf has encourage people to start printing documents and pictures, rather than storing them in digital formats.

Cerf says that unless we start preserving digital documents by printing them, vast quantities of digitally stored information and images will be lost as the technology to access them becomes obsolete.

He worries that the 21st century could become a “digital dark age” as future generations will have little or no records of what happened: “Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed. And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.”

Cerf reveals that much of the content on the internet from as little as ten years is no longer accessible, so we need to take action now to preserve content for the future: “We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them the same way we preserve books and so on we need to make sure that the digital objects we create will be rendered far into the future.”

Cerf is currently looking into creating digital archives to preserve digital history, however for now he says the only reliable way to preserve history is to revert to an age old solution – printing: “If there are pictures that you really, really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally. Historians will tell you that sometimes documents, transactions, images and so on may turn out to have an importance which is not understood for hundreds of years. So failure to preserve them will cause us to lose our perspective.”

It’s saying something when staff from the biggest technology company in the world are recommending print as a format. Print has served us well for centuries, and we think it will be here for centuries more.