Days of Future Past - Reminiscing over data storage

Updated: 4 days ago

Human development is intimately linked to our ability to expand the amount of data we can store. An argument can be made that one of the main drivers of human advancement is the desire and ability to; input, store, recall and share data. The first major leap for data storage was oral tradition. With the development of this system we were able to input, share and store exponentially more data than we could on our own. Oral tradition formed the first networks of data, utilizing group memory to store and recall knowledge. This method of storage served our Ancestors well although it had shortcomings, especially around access and retention of data.

The next big step in the evolution of data storage was hieroglyphics on walls or on stone tablets. The main innovation here being the ability to retain and preserve data for much longer periods, more accurately, for recall at anytime. These new data storage methods however were restricted by the medium that they we input on. Stone was a game changer as far as data retention, however data entry was time consuming and the material offered limited or no mobility.

The problem of mobility as well as the time-consuming nature of data entry led to our next technological leap forward in data storage…..paper. The Ancient Egyptian’s move to papyrus meant that the main benefit of the previous method of data storage was maintained (i.e. accurate data retention) while solving the problems of mobility, access and the amount of space required for storage. As we continued to evolve from scrolls to books and expanded from the first libraries and universities in Timbuktu to the multitude of institutions and bookstores that made access to data almost ubiquitous, paper remained the medium and books now stored our data.

Although books weighed a lot less than stone tablets, they still had requirements that limited access to data and demanded an ever increasing amount of storage space. In fact by 1944 the American inventor and librarian at Wesleyan University, Fremont Rider posited that in order to store all of the academic and popular works of value being produced at the time, American libraries would have to double their capacity every 16 years. Given this, in his estimation, by 2040 the Yale Library would contain 200 million books spread over 6,000 miles of shelves. It was clear that further development and methodologies for data storage would be required.

The advent of personal computing began to shift the landscape of data storage as well as access to data into one where far more information was available to the individual. Now individuals had the ability to store and access vast amounts of data, although sharing data still required one's physical present.

As cool as this era was, the arrival of the World Wide Web and the invention of Cloud storage truly marked humanity’s magnum opus as far as storage, access, retention and share-ability of data. With cloud storage we can access our data on any device, retain our data forever and share large amounts of data relatively easily and without the need of a physical exchange.

Although cloud storage has been a phenomenal step for data retention and access, if we look back at the evolution of data storage, we can be confident that we will continue to push forward. So the question is “what comes next?”.

With the promise of Quantum Computing on the horizon the cost of data storage will continue to drop drastically, making it ever more possible to save all of your data indefinitely. In this upcoming reality, every picture, book-report, assignment, post, favorite website, audio-book and chat, will be saved and securely accessible to you. This will lead to further demand for tools that can effectively manage; saving, securely storing, sharing and recalling of vast amounts of varied data from systems with no interoperability. The future of data storage, access and share-ability will continue to be closely linked to human development and may be the final frontier for our evolution.

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