Critical Issues Relating to Impacts of Information Technology: Areas for Future Research and Discussion

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National Academies Press


There are several key issues that concern me as a scholar. First, as an economic historian and as someone who looks retrospectively as well as prospectively, I believe we face a major issue involving the archiving of data. There are two main issues. People say about magnetic media that it lasts 5 years or until it wears out, whichever comes first. That is probably a bit pessimistic. But even if the media persist, what about the input-output devices? It is getting more and more difficult to find a 5.25-inch drive, and woe to him or her who has data on 8-inch floppies! Tape backups are sometimes even worse. New backup software is sometimes not backwards compatible, so that one needs old copies of backup software as well as a compatible tape drive in order to restore data. We need mechanisms to ensure the retrievability of records that previously would have been stored as printed records. This issue is at least as important for individual records (both personal and professional) as for those pertaining to the corporation or organization as a separate legal entity. Whatever media are used, we need them to be at least as durable and stable as microfilm. Ideally these media should be relatively inexpensive, and equipment to read and/or write on them should be standardized and widely accessible. Will individual and private enterprise be sufficient to ensure retrievability? Is there an externality in terms of ensuring access that would warrant government subsidy or intervention in this area, perhaps as part of the activity of the National Institute of Standards and Technology?