Penmanship and Data Forever?

Gilbert Price

June 26, 2007

I was thinking the other day about my personal writing ability, no, not the wordsmithing, I'm not talking about writing on a computer, but rather the old fashioned pen to paper type of writing. I have noticed I tend to get cramping fingers and hands when taking notes during long meetings or classes. But I wasn't really giving this much thought until my son started complaining that cursive writing was hurting his hand!

In an attempt to assist him with learning to write (he's in the fourth grade) I started looking for references online and found I wasn't the only one with this problem. In fact only a few states now require a minimum acceptable standard of penmanship for school work. Many find it totally acceptable for students to complete some or all of their school work on a computer. Needless to say I was a little shocked and dismayed to read this, and am resolving today to start improving my penmanship and to pass along all I know about writing to my son.

This issue of writing also led me down the path of data permanence. You know, how long will my written words remain available for review and reading. As little as 11 years ago, while I was in the Army, the standard applications we used were Multimate for word processing and Lotus 123 for a spreadsheet. DBase was our database application and we didn't use the Internet for anything. We did have e-mail via dial-up and with convoluted and difficult gateways to the Arpanet for moving e-mail back and forth between military installations.

I bring this up because I have some 5.25 inch disks with copies of documents I created in the early 90's. I came across these the other day and realized I don't have Multimate, Lotus 123 or DBase to recall the files, in fact I don't have either a 286 or 386 system running DOS 3.1 in which these applications ran. If that was just 11 to 13 years ago, how are things going to be in the next 11 to 13 years? Will these web pages be readable, how about the hundreds of family photos which only exist as graphic images on CD-Roms, will we be using CD's or will these be replaced by high-capacity USB sticks?

See where I am going? It's the permanence of the written word on paper which stands the test of time. I have books in my collection which are older than I am, I have family photos from the 50's and 60's? Will my digital files still be accessible in 50 or 60 years?

I really don't know and that is why I am returning to pen and paper for much of my writing, I know I gain a much larger audience on the Internet in this medium, but my important work will be written first on paper, then on computer. And it is this practice I want to pass along to my son.

How are you dealing with the issue of permanence, and the larger issue of data security?

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