'Father of the Internet' mounts defense of hard copies

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This week's latest critique of digital culture is coming from an unlikely figure — one of the "fathers of the Internet."

Vint Cerf, now a vice president at Google, warned that today's digital files are at risk of being lost to history as ways to access them become obsolete.

"We digitize things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artifacts that we digitized," Cerf told The Guardian newspaper.

Cerf also broached the topic at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif.

"When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history," he said.

Cerf's notion of a "forgotten century" underscores fears that the world's first digital age is moving forward without enough documentation to help future historians understand it.

Computer users encounter the phenomenon as personal files and communications get lost in the flow of software upgrades and technological changes. Cerf dubbed the trend "bit rot" and called for a system of preservation for old software and hardware so that all files remain accessible.

He also had a piece of practical advice: "If there are photos you really care about, print them out." Some advocates also point to this approach as a way to avoid cyber threats.

Cerf helped design the architecture of the Internet, working in both government and private industry since the 1970s. His current position is chief Internet evangelist for Google.