Home Engineering The dark side of technology
The large capacity of the CD for data storage moved CDs into the computer storage market. We should remember that in precisely the same period, there had been immense strides in computer power and availability. Therefore we need to ask both How long can information stored on a CD survive? and Will it become obsolete because of storage format changes, or from material failure? Therefore there may be different answers for rarely accessed CD stores, and those that are accessed repeatedly (e.g. as in music). The numbers differ, and this is important for survival of our precious music or computer-generated data. CDs are relatively rugged under normal handling, but they can become scratched, and the coatings are attacked by bacteria (especially in tropical climates). Decay of the polycarbonate coatings happens; the metalized surfaces can oxidize, and changes occur that makes them degrade with prolonged exposure to light or chemical vapours from the foam or plastics that were initially used in the packaging.
So, whilst carefully stored and unused discs might potentially last 50 or 100 years, those we are using on a regular basis have a far shorter lifetime set by climatic, chemical, mechanical, or bacteriological attack. A very obvious example is for music CDs in public music libraries, as these are invariably corrupted well within a decade.
In computer data storage terms, the extrapolation is that this may be equally relevant to the current CD, so data will be lost within a generation. For a system created in 1984, they have survived well. Music may again be the driving factor, or the villain, in ousting them, as there is the potential for improved CDs with, for example, interactive facilities to control tone balance or select different instrumental channels, etc. The concept is feasible, so it is highly likely to emerge—not least as they would generate a very large profitable market for the manufacture of the electronics needed to play them. Such a concept is commercially interesting, as it would revive a focus on CD-style formats that are now in competition with music downloaded in the form of MP3-type files. The MP3 versions are very compact and suitable for use with headphones, but for true music aficionados, the interactive CD, where one can modify balance of parts and adjust to local room acoustics, would be a revolutionary step forward.
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