I don’t think that any of us can ensure, with full certainty, that anything we may produce will be preserved for any significant amount of time. Like others in this class have said in their blog posts, I’m not even confident that any file I may create, or any media upon which I store that file today will be readable any truly significant amount of time from now. The age of computers so far is such a short blip in the grand scheme of human history that it seems like a fool’s game to make that kind of prediction. It is near impossible to know for certain which formats will still be readable in to the far future – and more importantly – near impossible to figure out which records stored where will be prioritized for conversion to whichever new format becomes the standard (and again to whatever standard format may follow).
It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that the only way that we could rely on for our research materials to be preserved for any significant amount of time would be to print everything onto acid-free paper and store the resulting mass in archival boxes in a humidity-controlled, fire-proof safe. But then that seems not only hubristic and impractical (especially for any research in which truly significant amounts of data are collected), but also restricts access to those materials, and (now this is the heart of the issue) would not even be capable of accurately representing the nature of digital artefacts and the ways in which the researcher made use of them. Print may be one of the most durable formats that humankind has invented, but, as Kirschenbaum discusses on the print versions of Agrippa, representing digital objects in print form is an interpretive act, and does not preserve so much as convert and reinterpret the original digital artefact.
I am taking this issue to extremes, but with the proliferation and to some extent standardization of digital repositories online for universities and other organizations, and what with our ready access to affordable, large-capacity external hard-drives and the like, preservation for the immediate future does not seem too difficult.
(*edit*, it is now 3:50 pm, not 4:50, so Ben, if you’re reading this, could you maybe see if you can fix this timezone issue we’re having?)
Kirschenbaum, M.G. (2002). Editing the interface: textual studies and first-generation electronic objects. Text: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies, 14, 15-51. [http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/30227991]