unlike the e-book, it lasts a lifetime

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It is likely that your parents and especially your grandparents keep books that were printed decades ago. Some of them may be over 100 years old, but it doesn’t matter: they are still there, ready for you to open and enjoy without further ado.

Things are different for electronic books. If you bought one ten years ago, it may be difficult for you to enjoy it right away. Most often, the format in which it was published has become obsolete, which makes it necessary for you to convert it to some new popular format these days like ePub.

Obsolescence attacks us everywhere

The problem is real. Digital, which theoretically seems to make it easier for everything to be preserved perfectly for decades (or centuries), poses clear problems when one begins to think about digital formats in the long term.

It happens in all sectors of technology: evolution is so rapid that what was new and best before becomes (surprisingly quickly) obsolete. Not only that: the new often needs to “disconnect” from the old and make it incompatible.

We often see it in the PC and laptop segment, where (almost all of us) said goodbye to floppy disks a long time ago, where standards and connection ports are advancing mercilessly, and where new components mean that renewing the computer often ends up being difficult. more cost effective than upgrading.

The same with the world of video —Betamax disappeared, but VHS refuses to die— and with those Netflix worlds that killed DVD and Blu-ray.

There are anomalies, of course.. The world of audio is, and there are still people who listen to music on cassettes —our great John Tones is one of them—, and in the days of Spotify vinyl reappears along with the also ousted CDs.

Emulators, ROMs and the debate between nostalgia, love of retro and illegality

If there is a clear example of this obsolescence (planned or not), that is that of video games. The machines we played with in the 80s are museum pieces, and the evolution of this industry has been so frantic that today playing as it was then is the privilege of collectors and retro enthusiasts. Nostalgia is a powerful ally in this and other areas of our society.

The paradox of the digital is that it is worse preserved than the physical

“Long live books” (physical). Thus concludes the Internet Archive reflectionthis gigantic digital library who has been working for years to try to preserve all kinds of content in all kinds of digital formats.

There it is possible to find electronic books that would otherwise be difficult to locate, disappeared websites, articles from online platforms that ceased to exist, songs in danger of extinction or video games that today would be almost impossible to find in physical format but that we can continue to enjoy thanks to to the miracle of emulation.

Those responsible for this fantastic project know what they are talking about. Large publishers protect their privacy as eBook readers evolve and digital formats change making old ones obsolete.

Those who enjoy electronic books know it well: applications like Caliber are almost essential to manage these books and to be able to convert them to compatible formats readable on those devices. For libraries —which frequently already have part of their catalogs in digital format— this is also a daily job, and the evolution and diversity of formats —ePub, Mobi, PDF, etc.— makes this preservation task complicated.

As they explained in The Internet Archive, the problem is not only that of changing formats, but the storage media that serve to preserve them and that also have their own problems.

The unbearable lightness of the CD: why saving your photos (only) on this support is not a good idea

If you want to store data in the long term, the CD is not a good option, and although there are projects and technologies that promise not to degrade in millions of years, its practical use on a large scale is complicated. Hard drives are all very well, but their longevity is relatively limited and here alternatives such as LTO magnetic tapes emerge.

All of this makes it easy to see the irony. Digital formats, which look so great in many ways, they are not so. They have their own problems when it comes to preserving them and making them usable and enjoyable for new generations. Digital books are just one example, and that makes the statement made by those in charge of The Internet Archive more true than ever.

Long live books. To the digital ones, yes, but of course also to the usual ones.

Long live physical books.

Image: Taylor Wright

It is likely that your parents and especially your grandparents keep books that were printed decades ago. Some of them…

It is likely that your parents and especially your grandparents keep books that were printed decades ago. Some of them…

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