I’ve long been fascinated with data rot.
Data rot has two basic types. The first is about the medium on which information is stored. For example, hard drives can have mechanical failure. Audio cassettes and other recording media can be affected by moisture, heat and humidity, so that they don’t retain their information as effectively. Translation: If you leave your “Now That’s What I Call Music #38” tape in the glove box for more than a few months, it will start to sound terrible. (And, according to Good Omens it will also become a Best of Queen album, but that’s a separate problem.)
The second type of data rot is the one that fascinates me the most. It’s that the machines to read the older types of data are simply harder to find. When’s the last time you saw a reel-to-reel or an 8-track player outside of a pawn shop or a garage sale? Betamax, anyone? I had a brief flirtation with MiniDisc in the 1990s, even going so far as to convert a bunch of my Best of Queen tapes to MiniDisc, right up until CD burners and mp3 technology caught up to my needs. Heck, even my modern laptop has no floppy or optical drive. (Astonishingly, some of our nuclear arsenal is secured by the use of archaic 8-inch floppy disks. Security by obscurity!)
More recently, I’ve been thinking that there’s a third type of data rot, one which is much more personal. My company has been going through changes for the last year or so, and they decided last summer to sell off the part of the business that I work in. The user base of our servers is being migrated away to another company, and everything will be transferred out within the next seven or eight months.
These are the servers I’ve been working on for the last fourteen years.
Here’s where the data rot comes in- many of our systems are home grown or proprietary. Sure, the systems that I work in every day have a basis in FreeBSD and Linux, but much of the environment on top of those operating systems is not used anywhere else in the world.
In less than a year, the only place those systems will exist is in the minds of the people who have worked on it. I have so much specialized knowledge that I will never use again. That’s data rot.
This past week was a brutal time at our company, with a tremendous round of layoffs taking out people who were there for ten, fourteen, sixteen years. My department lost something like 60% of our staff. My row of cubicles went from ten people to four. When my usefulness is at an end, I’ll almost definitely be fired as well. I wonder if that could be considered data rot too.
The other day, I was driving home and I noticed a big, fat iguana sunning itself on the grass on the side of the road. I’ve been having a lot of memory problems lately. I don’t know if it’s all the headaches I’ve had over the last few years, or whether it’s just a sign of getting older. Amelie thinks that my crappy short term memory is just because I don’t sleep enough. Whatever the reason, I spent the next mile and a half of that drive trying to remember the word for iguana. I was absolutely convinced that it started with A, but all I could think of were aardvark, avocado, abogado. My memory is definitely swiss cheese compared to where it used to be. I can’t even remember where I put all my Best of Queen tapes. I guess that could be data rot as well.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced data rot in your own life?