Home Computing Random Personal Digital Archiving

Living in the Digital Dark Age

Updated 24 May 2023

The digital dark age is a term used to describe the potential loss of digital information, media and records as technology advances and old storage methods become obsolete. The concern is that as older digital storage media, such as floppy disks and CDs, are no longer readable or accessible with modern technology, the information stored on them may be lost permanently. The rapid pace of technological change and the limited lifespan of digital storage media make it difficult to preserve digital information, leading some to argue that we are currently living in a digital dark age. The issue is compounded by the fact that many people do not understand the need to preserve digital information or make efforts to preserve it, and data is also often deleted due to reasons such as server or hard drive space constraints.

We are living in the digital dark age


The headlines scream, "we may be creating a digital dark age." Even Wikipedia has a long description of what the digital dark age. is. Some people may call it hysteria, but we think the risk is very real. We dive knee deep into analyzing patterns that support the theory that we are living a period of mass heritage extinction. Data and information is ruthlessly deleted at an exponential rate. Once it is gone it is gone. That is why we give a wayback link to most of the items we link to on this website.

We also believe that the reason why the issues surrounding the digital dark ages has not been illuminated is because of the two-fold trends of the Internet. Reason 1 - Data is being created at an exponential rate. Who would notice if 200MB of data was lost when 2000TB of data might be created by the hour. Reason 2 - So many many more people are using computers and smartphones and accessing the web. Literally billions of people. Would they even notice, or care, if data from 30 years ago was not available to them?

Digital content is convenient and ever present. It is easy to believe that our data will be with us forever but in reality it is fragile and unstable. Data has a natural urge to decay and become unusable either through corruption or an inability to read and use the content in its original form. Every transformation creates a new state that is different from its original form.


One early consequence of the Digital Dark Age is the quantity of abandonware. Abandonware is the usual description of software that is ignored by the developer of the software years after the software is no longer commercially viable. Abandonware may be considered the unloved orphans of the publishing world. With the advent of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), the problem of abandonware is likely to become more serious.

It is not all doom and gloom. Although, not strictly abandonware, the space trading game Elite is the perfect template for long superseded games. Elite was first released on the BBC Micro in 1984. At the time it was widely released across many microcomputer platforms. This ground breaking game has not been forgotten in retro-gamer's minds. The binary codes have been preserved in many locations. The groundswell of support helped convince the orginal developer to release the sourcecode as well. I consider this to be the ideal approach to managing older games.

What is digital content preservation?

Digital loss can come in many forms. Our current focus is on the cultural loss as formerly popular groups and message boards disappear. Yahoo Groups is an example that springs to mind. Yahoo is within their financial right to stop supporting mailing lists However, with possibly over 150 million users of My Yahoo Groups, we can only imagine what society loses when the delete button is hit.

It is true that storage costs continue to fall. Storage costs are only one part of a very complex equation. Digital content needs to be maintained to ensure it stays relevant and accessible. Metadata needs to be store and made available. Constant review is required to ensure all of these datasets meet ongoing legislative and cultural standards.

One often overlooked issue is that software packages do not always save in a format that is 100% compliant to the relevant specification. This could be because the software developer wanted to add a snazzy feature to the file format appears to work in current software libraries but is prone to future failure. Or there is an unknown bug in the file format export function that appears to work but really is not future failure proof. Some formats are really executable formats, like PostScript, are very difficult to repair if the programming or file data gets corrupted.

A new and fresh art installation has been created to give form and meaning to the digital dark age. Degredation advertises itself as an interactive audio visual installation inspired by the digital obsolescence and information impermanence. OK, these are two big terms that may be difficult to one's toungue around but it means that digital does not last forever. Digital content will not last 1,00 years. Your digital content may not even last 10 years. How much digital content do you have from 2010 and that gives you some idea about how much may be available 10 years from now. Eventually our digital footprint will degrade and become unrecognisable.

What is software preservation?

It isn't just your cherished photos that are important to archive. Much software that has revolutionized the way we live our lives has been lost to future generations. We put forward our list of critical software pieces that need preserving. Wikipedia is currently running with the list of commercial video games with available source code.

Dive into the captivating world of digital preservation with our latest article, 5 Best Abandonware Sites; The Fight Against Digital Decay. Unearth the treasures of the past as we journey through the top platforms dedicated to saving classic games and software from oblivion. From the vast archives of Archive.org to the nostalgic realms of myabandonware.com, discover the heroes battling the Digital Dark Age and ensuring our electronic heritage remains alive and accessible. Don't miss this deep dive into the realms where pixels of the past defy time

Preserving game source code

Hundreds of game source code instances, coming up from the 1970s through to today, have been collated into a single archive. The Internet Archive are kindly hosting the game source collection. There is also the video game preservation project, Historical Source project, and Libre Games archive all of which are hosted on GitHub. GitHub even has the code so you can run a very early history of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Preserving abandoned DOS games

Archiving abandoned DOS games is essential for preserving a crucial part of gaming history. As technology advances and operating systems change, many older games become unplayable, and their code is lost or forgotten. By archiving these games, we ensure that future generations can experience and learn from the early days of PC gaming. My favourite archive is the Internet Archive's DOS games Abandonware Ark. There are over 2,800 games in the software ark.

One of the main benefits of archiving abandoned DOS games is that it provides an opportunity to study the evolution of game design and programming. These games were often created by small, independent teams with limited resources and technical knowledge. Despite these limitations, many of these games were highly innovative and influential, shaping the course of gaming history.

Archiving abandoned DOS games also has practical benefits for current gamers. Many modern games are inspired by the classics of the past, and by studying these older games, developers can gain insights into what makes a great game and how to improve the gameplay experience.

Archiving abandoned DOS games is essential for preserving gaming history and enabling future generations to experience and learn from the early days of PC gaming. By doing so, we ensure that the legacy of these games and their creators lives on, and that we can continue to learn from and be inspired by them for years to come.

How Digital Content degrades

We think that this is a classic case of digital irony. The intelligent starting point for anyone looking for information on the Digital Dark Ages is to browse the Wikipedia article. The person who claimed to have created this article was Niels Elken Sønderby as shown on the revision page back in December 2006. The linked blog post proudly proclaims:

I don't think I can think of a topic that interests me for which I haven't been able to find an article on Wikipedia.
However, recently it happened that a topic that I've heard mentioned independently by my brother-in-law and a colleague simply didn't exist on Wikipedia. So I thought that my contribution to Wikipedia should be an article on the Digital Dark Age. I hope you'll enjoy it. And be bold in editing.

Posted on Thursday 20 November 2006 by Niels Elken Sønderby

Preserving website data is more difficult that first thoughts would suggest. Let us show you visually by providing screenshots from this blog post of a decade. The information shown here is derived from the ever useful Wayback archives.

Niels Elken Sønderby blog post on the digital dark age
Figure: Example of how a blog entry looks over a decade

The first screenshot shows what the original post looks like. The page appears to be written in Wordpress and contains no errors. By 2016, the personal blog had fallen out of use and user's looking to read this little piece of history received a 403 error, meaning that the blog post was not available to read. The announcement for a new Wikipedia article was lost.

Then by 2019, the blog entry had returned. There are problems with this web page. For starters, it is showing scripting errors (the text in black) and the reply section is closed. Even worse, the web page has turned into an advertising page offering Buy Cialis Professional. How this relates to the original post is not obvious. To our eyes, this likes a case of subtle graffiti.

So what can we learn from this? For starters, it shows that the Internet is only a temporary repository of information. Secondly, all data can get lost. And finally, even with the original blog post data, the content management system had changed leading to errors and making it hard to read the original announcement.

And that my friends, explains the case of how digital content degrades.

Dead Links Pool

The digital dark age becomes clear over time. I am an article writer that uses online resources to investigate my source material. I then reference this material with links to the webpage. This is exactly how the designers intend the Internet to operate.

Digital content degrades over time and without warning. Websites are there to link to. And then without warning, websites are no longer available. What happened to this source material? It's lost into the digital ether. Simple text websites are easy to replicate. Complex applications are not suitable for replication. Their functionality is no longer available.

This section captures some dead links to website pages that I have referenced. Unfortunately, I cannot keep these dead links on my page. Google uses a website scoring algorithm. The Google scoring algorithm reduces the score of pages with dead links. Page authors need to remove dead links to keep their pages ranking well. At an individual page level this makes sense. Google's argument is that the user experience is less than satisfactory. Looking at this approach from a system level reveals a trend. Information removed from the web is not only lost. All information referencing this information is also removed. It is like that information never existed. I call this, deleting with extreme prejudice.

This section shows the information removed from this website.

The Dead Links Pool

Should I print my photos?

Almost everyone in the world has a quality camera in their smartphone and happy memories are just a click away. Before digital, people took rolls and rolls of chemical film, made famous by the Kodak 35mm cartridge. You would pull out your camera, say cheese, and weeks later a printed photo would appear. Hours were spend adding photos to photo albums and browsing fading memories. Don't forget that the photos were annotated with witty comments and hazy explanations. But who has the time now?

In the digital age, we are constantly creating data, especially photos and videos that we share across the world. Each photo is meta-tagged with the time, camera settings, and geospatial information. Modern facial recognition systems will also automatically, and accurately, tag our friends faces in these photos. All of these digital memories take exactly zero seconds of our time to create. A casual look back in your photo will give you a world on detailed historical information on your life.

Stop and look a little further back and you will see that your memories suddenly stop, or at the very least, significantly reduce in quality, quantity and meta data. For many, that point is the date they purchased their current smartphone.

The book, Bit Rot by Marcia Amid, quotes Vint Cert on of the fathers of the Internet as saying,

If there are pictures that you really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.

Using Generative AI to improve digital preservation

Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the preservation of vintage computers and software in several ways:

Using generative AI for digital preservation

With the advent of generative artificial intelligence, there is a hope for preserving this valuable digital content. AI can help with the digitization of vintage computers and software, making it easier to access and experience. AI can also assist with the preservation of digital content, detecting and repairing any corruption before it becomes a problem. AI can also help with the translation of digital content into more modern formats, ensuring that data from the past remains usable for generations to come. With AI, we can ensure that our digital heritage is preserved for the future, preventing a digital dark age from becoming a reality.

I've seen people start playing text adventure games using generative AI. Apart from organising collections and improving restoration tools, it got me thinking that generative AI can plug gaps and enhance the retrogaming. By leveraging the power of AI, it will become easier to access and experience vintage tech, ensuring that it is preserved for future generations.

Digital Dark Ages case studies

5 Best Abandonware Sites

5 best sites
for abandonware

Digital Archiving of Sports Events: The Future of Sports Memories

Sporting Memories

The Digital Dark Age: Why Retrogaming and Merchandise Matter

Retrogaming &

Yahoo Groups closes on our digital heritage

Yahoo Groups closes
on our digital heritage

Shoebox cease photo cloud storage services in 2019

Shoebox ceases photo
cloud storage services

Personal Digital Archiving Notebook

Jason Scott at Fronteers 2017

Jason Scott
at Fronteers 2017

Jason Scott Digitial Archiving

Jason Scott on
Digital Archiving

Jason Scott on saving Digital Culture

Jason Scott on
saving Digital Culture

More articles we think you might like

3D Nature Soundscapes

Amazingly relaxing
nature soundscapes

Evolving Landscape of Leadership: Adapting to the Age of AI

Adapting to the
Age of AI

Small Scale Organic Hops Production

Small scale organic hops
production book

Little Golden Book I am Mr Spock book review

I am Mr Spock
book review