Will data ‘in the cloud’ survive as long as that on paper?


Archivist Isaies Blesa of the city archives in Xativa, the city that introduced Europe to the art of papermaking in medieval times, poses an interesting question. Will data in the cloud survive as long as that on paper? Without showing any judgment, he goes on to tell us enthusiastically about the value of paper throughout the centuries.

From a bookcase, Mr Blesa takes books which are pieces of art in themselves, because of the way they’ve been bound. Pieces of paper from the 14th century describing the social life at the time. Rights and duties. And the taxes for the king. He shows the paper’s structure from different sheets, which is interesting because readability improved so much over such a short period of time.

We’ll have to wait and see if our current practice of
storing data in ‘the cloud’ is going to survive for centuries like paper has. “We just can’t say yet”, says Blesa. He opens up a drawer of video tapes. It’s difficult to see what’s on them. The content on this data carrier barely survived a few decades, and machines to read them have dissapeared. We need to transfer this information to other data carriers first. “In front of us lies the proof what paper has achieved, luckily for us. It’s the only way we can find out about all these things that happened in the past.”

Despite his respect for paper, he stresses that the digital evolution is inevitable. For the municipality of Xativa, maintaining the archives includes both digital and paper work. “It is a double process”, Mr Blesa says. “Storing documents digitally with a safety code, E-administration, is essential to protect the original papers. At the same time, digital documents can be more easily manipulated than paper documents. This is a very interesting paradox.”