What Is Digital Decay & Data Degredation? – MakeUseOf

Your digital data isn’t as secure as you think. Data degradation is a real thing, and it affects millions of us every year.
Did you know that files you store digitally (on CDs, hard disk drives, solid-state drives, memory cards) are more fragile than physical files? That's right: just as our photographs and printed files yellow and wear out over time, similar things also happen to your digital files and data. So, are your digital files safe? How does data decay, and what can you do to prevent your data from degradation?
Digital decay is the gradual breakdown, decomposition, and wear out of data stored on the computer. These include HDDs, SSDs, USB flash drives, CDs, etc. Contrary to popular beliefs, files stored on computers are prone to decay and can often be rendered unusable or irretrievable. Digital decay can also be referred to as data rot or data degradation.
Digital decay is caused by storage device failures. When data decays, files like documents, pictures, videos, and programs can be lost or tampered with. So, what causes this decay or degradation of digital data?
Technology is advancing rapidly as the years go by. The storage devices you know of today didn't exist 40 years ago. The world has moved from Drum Memory and Uniservo in the 1950s to floppy disks and cassette tapes that could only store a few megabytes of data in the 1970s and now to hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and SD cards which can store large gigabytes of data.
Related: SSD vs. HDD: Which Storage Device Should You Choose?
Although these advancements have benefits, they also make data stored in older storage devices obsolete. When storage devices improve and change, the devices to read the data also changes. Files stored in a floppy disk would be impossible to read now because the devices USD to read them are no longer available. One thing to note is that advancement in technology is inevitable, and the storage devices we use now could well be consigned to history in a few decades.
Although data is software, they are stored in hardware devices, which are prone to failure. For example, data degradation can occur in RAM (random access memory) when electrons in the capacitors and transistors leak or disperse. Leaking also occurs in SSDs and flash memories where the electric charges stored in the drives are lost due to general wear and tear, leading to data loss.
Electrical leakages aren't the only source of data decay. HDDs use magnetic storage and, over time, lose their magnetic orientation. Long exposure to wet or humid conditions might also affect the hardware and lead to degradation.
Link rot is a type of digital decay that occurs entirely on the internet. A lot of data is stored on the internet through websites. Video, audio, and text files are all uploaded on the web. But websites can get deleted or stop working. This means that links to the website become broken, and the data stored is inaccessible.
Link rot also occurs in social media. If an account gets deleted or a social media channel like YouTube or Instagram goes down permanently, billions of pictures, videos, audio files, and text files would be gone forever.
The most effective way to prevent data decay is to back up your files. You can never be too safe. All files on your computer, phone, and social media should be copied and safely backed up. Ensure that you make multiple copies of all your files on different storage devices. This way, the chances of data decay are reduced.
More importantly, back up files to the cloud. The cloud is a software and internet service that allows you to upload your data and access it from any computer. The cloud is more effective and secure than copying files to hardware storage devices. Here are the best free cloud storage providers you can consider using.
Not necessarily. Hardware devices can get corrupted. Your computer could get hacked and erased, and your storage devices might not last for decades. All these contribute to the problems digital decay poses. Making sure to back up your files would go a long way in preserving your data.
Worried about losing your vital personal data? Data backups are essential. But what’s the best way to back up your data?
Chioma is a technical writer who loves communicating to her readers through her writing. When she isn’t writing something, she can be found hanging out with friends, volunteering, or trying out new tech trends.
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