As I sat in my chair watching thousands of family photos load onto a brand new SanDisk Memory Vault, I couldn't help but dream of the future.
Designed to last at least 100 years, I imagined this sleek metallic device being found by my great-great-grandchildren in an attic. They would plug it into their computer (or whatever might pass for such a century hence), then stare in wonder at the quaint, non-holographic images of me, my wife, and our daughter – their great grandmother at age six – inhabiting a strange urban landscape yet to be populated with flying cars and extraterrestrial migrants.
This, it seems me, is the sort of secret hope harboured by most of the people who will seriously consider the American manufacturer's latest consumer storage solution. And I can buy into the concept, if not necessarily this particular device.
Securing a visual record of our families is clearly important. It used to involve stuffing photos into an album but in the digital age, it's no longer so simple.
Most of us keep our swelling collections of digital pictures and videos on a local hard drive. However, hard disks – both primaries and backups – eventually fail. Responsible memory keepers are thus left with the burden of replacing and upgrading their hardware every five or six years to avoid data loss.
More of us are beginning to take advantage of cloud storage, which offloads the chore of backing up data and replacing backup storage hardware to a third party. This is a smart and easy solution, but families with larger image repositories – my family's photo and video folders are approaching half a terabyte – will likely need to pay a fee (Google's Picasa service, for example, currently charges $20 annually for 80 gigabytes of storage).
SanDisk's Memory Vault provides a third option. It's designed to act as the only backup you'll need for the rest of your life. Once loaded, you can keep it alongside your analog photo albums, store it the safe in your den, or for those who fear fires and natural disasters, drop it into the family's safety deposit box. With the device warranted to work for a century or longer, you won't have to worry about losing your pictures or videos for as long as you or, in all likelihood, your children, will live.
Of course, 100 years is a bold claim. Unless someone at SanDisk has devised a way to time travel (which seems a little outside the memory manufacturer's mandate), this device hasn't been tested over the course of ten decades. How does SanDisk back up its boast?
In a word: science. The Memory Vault is based on solid state storage technology, which is far more robust than standard hard disks. It has no moving parts to wear out and is much more resilient to changes in temperature, humidity and physical shocks. Plus, SanDisk has put its device through complicated lab tests designed to simulate the sort of conditions to which it would be exposed over the long term (you can see the math here [http://www.sandisk.com/misc/preserve].
Barring a nuclear war filled with data-erasing electromagnetic pulses, I've little trouble believing the Memory Vault will last a century or longer. I trust in SSD tech, and the device's slim but sturdy metallic design makes me confident that it will weather the years quite well (or at least better than its owners).
And I'm not particularly concerned about whether I or my descendents will find a way to interface with early 21st technology. Just as I've been able to work out how to view my parents' slides from the 1960s and listen to phonograph cylinders from the beginning of the 20th century, I'm confident that methods will always exist to extract data from dated digital devices.
My problem with the Memory Vault is much more immediate: Price.
At $80 for the 16-gigabyte model (an 8-gigabyte version is available for $50), I'd need to spend $2,500 to transfer my half-terabyte of family pictures and videos to SanDisk's durable little machines. This price-per-gigabyte ratio seems absurd in our world of storage-hungry 16-megapixel still pictures and 1080p high-definition video, making the Memory Vault is a non-viable solution for most of us.
At least for now.
The cost of storage is in perpetual decline. If the price drops and the capacity grows, I'll be first in line to buy a basketful of these little gizmos. And my great-great-grandkids, who will load my pictures and videos onto their thumbnail-sized yottabyte brain implants, will thank me for it.