In Case of Rapture, Can I Have Your Data?

Consider the state of the world at any point in time as being characterized by a vector of metrics that contribute to the effectiveness of digital preservation mechanisms. Simple examples might be the stability of the electrical grid, the prevalence of free speech, or the degree of uniformity in communication standards. For the sake of this discussion, assume that the value of such metrics can be compared (given two values, one is "greater").

If such a characterization is assumed, then the effectiveness of any particular digital preservation strategy will have some a “floor” defined by the point at which the effectiveness passes below the threshold of acceptability. Such a formal view helps in making this point: Every digital preservation strategy has some floor below which it becomes ineffective. The lower the values of constituent metrics at which the floor lies, the more robust is the strategy.

Given this framework, the question of how low this floor is in each metric can have economic, political, psychological and even metaphysical implications. Are some impossible? What about if North America loses power for a month? a decade? Do some offend your morality? Do we preserve the writings of terrorists? child pornography? Do you feel that in some worlds digital preservation is no longer of relevance? After a global famine? a nuclear war? The Rapture?

I will make the case that the floor on the effectiveness of current digital preservation efforts is too high, and propose specific strategies for lowering it. With provocative examples.