Look out for the future, because you never know what it might bring…
Question #91916 posted on 01/10/2019 7:46 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Say the world goes to crap, and civilization dies, what's the best way to store an audio recording so that it could be listened to eventually. I'm guessing record or tape, but it might be something else. what audio capture and play back device would be the first one recreated.

me, myself, and eye


Dear I, 

This is two really interesting questions, and like all really interesting questions, the answers are complicated. Firstly, about the the audio capture devices. While you might be right that, if we had to completely start over from the ground up, we would most likely be capable of recreating record players and cassette players before cd players or digital MP3 players. But, knowing what we know now, would humanity skip right over wax cylinders and records and head straight for MP3s? What kind of information loss are we talking about on a global scale? It's very possible that the second time around, humanity would reverse engineer the more advanced technology rather than go step by step. There's just no way for us to know how humankind would do on the second go-round. 

Secondly, in most of these cases, the actual physical recording would degrade and be unplayable far before we likely reinvented the playing method. Both vinyl records and standard casettes are very sensitive to heat, cold, dust, and moisture. Which, if we look to see how our civilization will most likely implode, doesn't really look good for those two formats. However, most of the data that we have about the eventual degradation of these mediums is measured over time, depending on the number of listens. We can't really tell how these mediums will stack up in 100, 200 years, because we haven't had the time to just leave a record or cassette alone for that long.

CDs, while being less sensitive to the elements, are also on this list. They just haven't been around long enough to really study. That being said, there has been a problem with some CDs, where the silver layer that holds the data becomes exposed to air and tarnishes, ruining the disc. There's also another type of disc, called the millenniata disk (or M-disc) that claims to be able to preserve the data on it for 1000 years. While the actual method of how it could even flipping do that is proprietary and secret, some archivists (like the ones in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections) have begun trusting the M-disc for preserving digital copies of their precious archives. The M-disc can be played on a CD player, but would probably last longer than a CD without degrading.

-Quixotic Kid

posted on 01/11/2019 5:08 p.m.
Addition to Quixotic Kid's excellent answer - the M-disc was actually invented at BYU, and then the original producing company was founded by two BYU professors. There's an m-disc in the second-floor western display case. Dr. Lunt's and Dr. Linford's paper on both the m-disc and the problems with standard storage media can be found on ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224937053_Permanent_Storage_for_Digital_Photos

posted on 01/11/2019 5:08 p.m.
This is actually a problem the folks at NASA considered. They wanted to include data, including sound, on the Voyager spacecrafts. They ended up using a gold-plated record, with directions on how to use it etched in it: