Google VP and internet pioneer Vint Cerf warns: print your photos or lose them when the digital files become irretrievable

Will the world fall into obscurity because there isn't any digital information available in the future? Internet pioneer Vint Cerf believes humanity should do more at the moment to print precious photographs and important documents before they disappear into the information blackhole.

New Zealanders take around 1.2 billion snaps on their smartphones every year, and approximately 20 million photos are lost forever each year. Here’s the new warning. Unless you print or store these digital footprints in a proper format that can be easily retrieved, they could fall into an information blackhole, irretrievable, forever.

This warning came from internet pioneer Vint Cerf, and vice president of Google who says improper handling of digital information could set the world into a period quite like the “dark ages” where future generations will wonder what kind of world we live in, because there is no record available.

“Future generations will wonder about us but they will have very great difficulty knowing about us,” he was reported by the Telegraph saying. Cerf was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in San Jose, California.

He also notes there is a huge problem with preserving and running a software over long periods of time, meaning digital information stored in one format might to be retrieval in the future when the software used for this task is obsolete.

He was reported saying he felt a ‘great burden’ to find a way to create digital formats which can still be accessed in thousands of years.

His solution: create a system which will store a digital format which will also preserve details of the software and operating system needed to access digital files in the future.

What do you do?

What does one do in the meantime? Cerf says for items that are really precious, print them out literally.

Peter Bonisch, sales and marketing manager at FujiFilm NZ says on average kiwis store around 1,200 photos on their phones, the equivalent of 2 GB of data,  per year but less than 10% of those make it to print.

“International trends indicate that smartphones will soon become our primary image storing device, ahead of computers, tablets and digital cameras, yet fewer than 10% of those photos are ever printed.”

“We scroll through and reminisce, and share a few photos on social media, but most of them stay on our phone,” says Bonisch. “So if that disappears, so do our photos. People are losing precious reminders of significant events, their friends and their family history.”

His advice for those who don’t want to store copious amounts of print: turn favourite images into creative wall art or into a book. The best way to protect precious photos that have been printed - keep them our out direct sunlight, and they will, he says, “last a lifetime”.