April 11, 2006


The date on the label says "Jan 26-28 1996." It's a VHS tape of our trek up Mt. Pulag, back when I was an avid backpacker/trekker.

Ten years. That long. Once-in-a-lifetime memories held together in a strip of decade-old magnetic tape. How long do these things last? The tape, I mean. A friend gave me this time capsule a few months after we got back from the trek, and I've seen it only twice -- the day I received it and about four years ago. I'm surprised it's still working. I'm surprised I still have a working VHS player.

Memories are supposed to last forever. But they don't do they? I can't even remember with whom I climbed that time. I can't remember what I wore, what we ate. All I remember is I have sounds and images of a very important climb in this strip of decade-old magnetic tape. How long so these things last anyway?

So, I did myself a favor. I watched the tape again and tried to remember everything (I still can't remember the names of some of the guys I trusted with my life up that mountain!). It's stunning to realize that since that climb, two of my fellow-climbers had died. Some have migrated to other parts of the world. A few have gotten married... to each other.

I knew that if I wanted to keep these memories with me, I would have to watch the tape every so often. Some of these friends will be hard to find now, and a number will most likely continue to exist for me only in this roll. Maybe in one of my viewing sessions everyone's names will come back to me.

So, before I lose everything as this VHS tape deteriorates, this VHS player fades into oblivion, and this aging mind slips into retirement, I copied the tape onto a DVD to preserve the stories, the smiles and laughter, and the unforgettable faces of friends who trekked with me through some of the most exciting days of my life.

How long do these DVDs last anyway?

Here's what I gathered from the old reliable Internet:

Pressed DVD (movies) - 50-300 years
DVD-R - 20-250 years
DVD-RW - 25-100 years
Magnetic tape - 10-100 years
Archival Microfilm - 300+ years

Fine print: Computer storage media and equipment become obsolete in 20-30 years.

Finer print: all of these lifespan estimates are based on highest quality materials and manufacturer standards. Poor materials, equipment, and storage conditions reduce lifespans considerably. Some experts recommend archive backup on at least three different media, and constant upgrades as new technologies emerge.

Finest print: nothing lasts forever.

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