Have you heard of the Digital Dark Age? According to a recent article at PRI, it is that time after we transitioned from analog storage to our current digital world. And we all, either knowingly or unknowingly, participate in it. Any time you email, text, tweet or conduct electronic commerce, you are adding information to the digital world that must be organized, stored, backed up and ultimately archived.
The problem with all of this digital storage is that it must be maintained and upgraded over time. Information that was previously saved to tapes, laser disks, optical platters and other digital forms may already be lost forever. To simplify matters, think about videos that you filmed and saved on VHS tapes. Those tapes had a shelf life of about 14 years, which doesn’t seem like a long time if you are like me, and purchased your first video camera when your children were infants and they are now reaching that magical age of 30. Many of the old tape formats I owned are no longer accessible, and unfortunately those videos may be lost forever.
There are some people who feel that by the end of the 21st century, there will be far less information remaining about this century than there was for the 20th century. They believe the information that was saved digitally will be lost to old archaic storage media. It’s ironic that a society which is creating an unimaginable amount of data may leave virtually none of it behind for future generations to view. And that people 200 years from now will know more about Franklin Roosevelt than Barack Obama. We may, in fact, become a dark hole to historians and scholars.
This is a disturbing thought to someone like myself who is involved in the digital storage of documents. What will become of the information that we help our clients digitize and store? Should we concern ourselves with this information and what will become of it?
The answer to that is maybe. It really depends on what is being saved and how it is being used. A company’s financial information, such as Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable data, has a relatively short shelf life, typically seven years. After that period, the information should be destroyed for legal reasons. No longer retaining that info is a prudent and reasonable thing to do. It eliminates the risk of potential liability that could come from keeping the information. Other items, such as Corporate Shareholder Agreements, Bylaws, Board Minutes, and Formation Documents should be permanently preserved. Understanding this, and understanding the potential risks of storing information digitally, requires a long-term strategy. A strategy that goes beyond today’s digital storage to one that can and will be migrated in the future.
It is not practical to think you can compete in today’s business world without using digital information. In fact, it is impossible to even try. To do this would be foolish and ultimately self-destructive for the company. Choosing the right document management solution and strategy is critical. Understanding the risks associated with these solutions is just as important as understanding the benefits.
Selecting information that is transactional in nature is an excellent place to begin. Documents that require multiple people to view and react to, are excellent candidates to be digitized and stored electronically. In fact, creating the documents electronically, and storing them digitally, can save valuable time and money. Understanding the potential risks associated with the digital dark age is important, just don’t let it scare you into paralysis and force you to make the wrong decision.
Jack Arnston is a Principal at The Priton Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.