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The Digital Dilemma

From MP3 players to cell phone cameras to the Internet, digital technology has made our lives easier, more fun and – online pet videos aside – more productive. But as anyone who has ever suffered the heartbreak of a hard drive crash or tried to watch home movies recorded in a now obsolete format knows, there is a dark side to storing information digitally.

In its landmark report, The Digital Dilemma, the Academy’s Science and Technology Council examined ways in which key players in the movie business and other major industries currently store and access important digital data. The goal was to better understand what problems these industries face today and what, if anything, is being done to avoid full-fledged data access disasters down the road.

Through 18 months of research and writing, the Council discovered that the issues of digital storage reliability and compatibility go far beyond lost snapshots and spreadsheets. The world currently produces the equivalent of many trillions of books a year in digital data. The question of how to dependably and efficiently archive and access this massive amount of information in the long term is already a burning issue for government, industrial and scientific communities.

Global Interest

Since its publication in November 2007, the study has caused reverberations around the world. The Digital Dilemma has been the subject of numerous international press reports and technical symposia. More than 6,000 copies have been distributed globally, with requests for copies coming from U.S. and foreign government agencies trying to evaluate their own state of digital preservation. The Digital Dilemma is now available in Japanese from Keio University and Brazilian Portuguese from Cinemateca Brasileira, and Korean from the Korean Film Council.

Follow-up report: The Digital Dilemma 2

The Digital Dilemma 2 reports on digital preservation issues facing communities that do not have the resources of large corporations or other well-funded institutions: independent filmmakers, documentarians and nonprofit audiovisual archives. Learn more