The Moving Image 3.1 (2003) vi-ix
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As I write these lines, the Association of Moving Image Archivists is preparing its conference in Boston, the first with a major focus on digital archiving issues. As we in AMIA all know, there is a paradigm shift of enormous proportions going on: we are moving away from a culture of objects to one of electronic bytes. The very materiality of traditional media will become obsolete in the foreseeable future. Some of us see this as an advantage; others mourn the loss of that materiality. How many theories of art, of photography, of cinema are grounded in the specific physical characteristics of the media? How will these media change when they no longer exist except as free-floating information in cyberspace? Archivists are by nature conservatives—at least in the spheres of art, culture, and technology—because it has traditionally been our job to conserve cultural artifacts in their original state. While commercial enterprises are constantly improving technology in the interest of efficiency and cost in order to produce higher profits, archivists are usually governed less by profit and loss (unless they work for private companies) than by the notion that moving image media have an intrinsic value apart from their informational content.
Traditionally, the goal of moving image archivists has been to preserve film on film and video on video (whatever the format), thus maintaining the original integrity of the object. But that has all changed now, even if at present we are talking only about preserving digital media digitally and not about preserving film in a digital format. The fact is, even if we wanted to uphold these traditions, we can't, because the manufacturers producing the tools of our profession will soon have moved on to newer technologies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find manufacturers of certain film formats, e.g., [End Page vi] black-and-white 16mm film or smaller gauges in any format. In the future, all production of raw film will probably cease.
Of course, the ideals of preservation have always fallen short of the realities of film archiving. The fact is that obsolete technologies die as quickly as the wave of a sales manager's hand. No longer is it possible to preserve nitrate film on nitrate stock or to preserve 28mm or 22mm or 9.5mm film in its original gauge. The same is true for Gaumont Chronochromes, Kodak's lenticular color, Technicolor imbibition print technology, Cinerama, VistaVision, four-track magnetic stereo, hand-colored 35mm film prints, and so on. These have already been transferred to other media. But until recently we were still dealing with celluloid-based materials with photochemical images on them. Video formats have disappeared in the last thirty years as quickly as they have been introduced: Sony Portapak, two-inch quad, Fisher-Price 8mm video, and so on. In the long term we are "doomed" to go digital.
Just imagine this science fiction scenario: An electromagnetic wave of unimaginable power and force crashes over the Earth's surface, wiping out every hard disk on the planet. With it, all human knowledge disappears. We would indeed mourn the passing of paper, pencil, and celluloid because these media are visible to the human eye.
There is currently more information being stored digitally than on all other information carriers together. The technologies of storage capacity are developing at breathtaking speed. According to Jim Wheeler, who is a member of the archival standards committee for the hard disk drive manufacturers, we are in a "brave new world" for data storage. One manufacturer is developing an HDD (hard disk drive) that stores about six terabytes per square inch, which is about 55 terabytes on a single hard disk drive. One [End Page vii] terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes, which is equal to 1,000 megabytes. So we are talking about 55 million megabytes of data on your hard drive. Remember when about ten years ago you had a 20-megabyte hard drive on your PC? To put this into perspective: all...