Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Storage?

By  |  Monday, March 23, 2009 at 9:50 am

Inhabitat(A NOTE FROM HARRY: We’re pleased to continue Digital Media Central‘s guest appearances with one by Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat, a cool blog about design, technology, and sustainability.)

With the cost of memory cards and hard drives falling almost by the day we’re adding storage capacity faster than can we fill our hard drives up with stuff–even if we are creating more photos, MP3s, emails, videos, etc. than ever (think about how you take more pictures with your digital camera now that you have a 1GB card in there than when you were scraping by with just 64MB). Moore’s Law has been great for processors, but the cost of a megabyte of hard drive space has plummeted. In 1986 it cost about $50 to get 1MB of storage; 23 years later just over fifty bucks gets you a 500GB drive–$2.5 million worth of capacity by 1986 standards.

Today we have a new problem, with many of us are finding it tough to fill up all the storage space we have. Storage is so plentiful now that we can afford to be wasteful with it, which has lead to a glut of storage capacity that is changing the way we think about all of our data. We’re all turning into digital pack-rats who hold onto stuff just because we can. A few years ago you’d actually have to make tough decisions about what to keep and what to delete as you ran out space on your hard drive, calculating whether holding onto something was actually worth going out and springing for a pricey new drive. (In those days whether or not to rip a CD at 192kbps or 128kbps could be an agonizing decision.)

When you don’t have to delete anything anymore if you don’t want to it’s increasingly tempting to just hold onto everything. Even all those blurry photos and hurriedly-written emails, since consigning them to the trash bin feels like deleting a part of your past that you’ll never be able to get back–and besides, they’re only taking up a few megs of hard drive space that you won’t ever need. It sounds great, but assuming you don’t actually lose all your files some day (others have written here about how to backup and protect your data, so do it!) in few years many of us will have find ourselves sifting through what will eventually be a mind-numbingly large numbers of photos, emails, and audio and video files.

It’s the organizing of all this data that will be the biggest challenge. Few of us have the time to properly rename or tag all of the photos we load into iPhoto or Picasa, and it’s not a job that can be easily passed off to someone else. New technologies that let us add some intelligence to the process will help–like facial recognition software that can figure out who is in all of our pictures, location-stamping photos taken with GPS-enabled cameras and cellphones so that you can always figure out where a picture was snapped, audio fingerprinting your MP3 collection so you aren’t stuck fixing mis-tagged files, etc.–but ultimately each of us will have to become the archivists and preservationists of our own digital lives.

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