Remember 8-tracks. Seriously.
I say “remember 8-tracks” because there was a time when 8-track audio cassette tapes were objects of derision and synonymous with obsolete technology (although today they have their collectors). This is a reminder, for those of you who might need it, that the format of media changes, and in recent decades has been changing rapidly. For Boomers, you’ll remember the vast changes in audio media: reel-to-reel tapes in the 50’s, LP albums made of vinyl, then compact cassette tapes and 8-track tapes, both of which were supplanted by CD’s. And most recently, CD’s are giving way to MP3 and other digital audio media.
Much the same is happening with visual media: Betamax lost out to VHS tapes which gave way to DVDs which now are challenged by Blu-Ray discs.
As technology changes, the images and sounds we record on one form of media are at risk of becoming obsolete. I don’t even have a VHS player in my home anymore, for example. So if we make an audio or visual recording of our legacy communication — ethical will, legacy letter, or a family history — we have an additional challenge to meet: do we continue to “migrate” (or re-record) our legacy recording to the next-generation media whilst we are still alive, and hope that our recipients do the same throughout their lives? Or do we simply create what we can, how we can, and leave it up to the recipients (next generation of family, in most cases) to manage the technological changes?
Just like a trick question…. Well, we have a third option. You know what one medium has withstood the grinding changes of hundreds of years? What has survived being forgotten in dusty attics or old trunks for generations, and was still immediately “playable” on the day of discovery?
Paper. Yep — paper, and pen and ink.
But — technology changes, even in paper, pen, and ink. Today you will have to obtain acid-free paper, and archival-quality inks, if you want your ethical will to still be immediately “playable” in generations to come. (Go visit the Resources section! And if you want to know more, read this article on the disintegration of books published largely since 1860.)
So: when you are choosing a means to capture and preserve your ethical will, consider the creeping change of technology. This is, in fact, one of the primary reasons for always including a written version of your legacy included with whatever other format you choose. Whether you choose to have yourself digitally recorded onto DVD, or to dictate your ethical will onto a CD, have it transcribed and printed out, too. Of course, you will need to have it printed onto archival-quality paper with archival-quality inks, but those are readily obtainable, whether for a printer’s output or, ideally, your own handwriting.
Eight-track cassette tapes didn’t last very long at all as a medium. MP3s and Blu-Rays won’t, either. Who knows what will be the audio/visual medium fifty years from now? Make sure your legacy doesn’t disappear along with old technology.