In J.P. Chan’s FUTURESTATES, Digital Lives in the Clouds

Posted on March 31, 2011
Filmmaker J.P. Chan’s short Digital Antiquities is streaming free, starting today on Think your CD collection is out of date? Welcome to 2036 where data loss has become a thing of the past and all digital media is permanently stored on cloud servers scattered round the world. Digital Antiquities follows one man’s pursuit to recover archival footage that will help answer important questions about his family history. Watch the film by J.P. Chan, streaming free on Why did filmmaker J.P. Chan decide to focus on the subject of outdated software and digital space? Read on for some background from the Mr. Chan himself…. I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, not long after it was introduced. It was the early 1980s, just around the dawn of the home-computer era. Priced at less than $300, the arrival of the C64 was a godsend to working-class families like mine that couldn't afford a home computer previously. Commodore sold millions of them. For lots of kids like myself, the C64 ignited a love for technology that has endured to this day and opened a door to a digital lifestyle that has now become commonplace. After that first C64, I bought three more (they were not exactly built to withstand the heavy use I was giving them), then a Commodore Amiga, then a succession of seven Macs culminating in the one I'm typing this on now. When I think about my C64 and Amiga these days, I get nostalgic and a little wistful for not holding onto them. I feel this way not because I miss the software, because I know I can easily get C64 and Amiga emulators for my Mac (and even iPhone) that can run all the applications I used to enjoy. What can't be re-created, however, is all the data I had stored on floppy disks that are now lost. Gone is all the writing, photos, music, and messages that I created or collected in my years of daily use of these beloved computers. These lost disks held bits of my youth that I think I'll only miss more as I grow older. My own experience with data loss made me think about how easy it is to lose digital memories and what it might mean for our culture — and ourselves — when that loss happens billions of times over. What memories will be preserved of our era, when the media itself is so fragile? Stone tablets survive millenia to tell us stories of civilizations that left few other traces. If the far-more-frail hard drive is the stone tablet of our times, we're in big trouble. In the future, virtually all of our lives will be recorded and presumably stored safely online somewhere. Recovering data from personal media like floppy disks, hard drives, optical discs, and memory chips will be an extinct business. But right now, we're creating lots of digital memories on these media but only haphazardly preserving them. How will we feel about this in a few decades when much of it is gone? I wrote Digital Antiquities to explore questions swirling in my head about memories, preservation, and ultimately, mortality. And right after I finished the first draft, I went out and bought a big hard drive to back up my computer.  


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