Can your notes be read on a 60-year-old computer?

Mickey Mellen
2 min readNov 15, 2023

At our technology and tools continue to improve, we’re increasingly losing our ability to own what we create. Not from a legal standpoint, necessarily, but a technical one.

If Squarespace doesn’t agree with your platform, they can delete your site.

If you ever posted on Myspace back in the day, that content is long gone.

Even things like Google Drive, which I use quite a lot, could someday disappear and take all of my files with it.

I try to mitigate some of that risk by using tools such as WordPress and Obsidian, but a recent article caught my eye. Earlier this year, Steph Ango wrote a post called “ File over app “, where he argued that we should be more focused on technology that lets us use files versus technology that buries our content in their custom app. The challenge, as he sees it:

Today, we are creating innumerable digital artifacts, but most of these artifacts are out of our control. They are stored on servers, in databases, gated behind an internet connection, and login to a cloud service. Even the files on your hard drive use proprietary formats that make them incompatible with older systems and other tools.

One of his solutions, that I use as well, is Obsidian (for note-taking). It’s a powerful bit of software, but all of the notes are saved as plain text files on your computer. From his post on the Obsidian blog:

Obsidian notes are stored in simple, plain text files, which have been in use since the dawn of computing. If you want your writing to still be readable on a computer from the 2060s or 2160s, we think it’s important that your Obsidian notes can be read on a computer from the 1960s.

As he points out, Obsidian won’t last forever, but your files can. Even if/when Obsidian goes away, you have a folder full of plain text files of all of your notes, and you can use some newer software to view them if you want.

WordPress files aren’t easily read offline, but it’s simple to make a copy of your site and bring it with you (which is far better than Squarespace, Shopify, and most other platforms).

Google Drive keeps things in a proprietary format, but you can (and should!) download backups of your files using Google Takeout from time to time.

Whatever software you’re using, make sure you have a way to take your stuff with you when you leave (or when they shut down). You may not have a concern about your files being viewable in 2160, but thinking that far ahead might keep you more safe tomorrow.

Originally published at https://www.mickmel.com on November 15, 2023.

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Mickey Mellen

I’m a cofounder of @GreenMellen, and I’m into WordPress, blogging and seo. Love my two girls, gadgets, Google Earth, and I try to run when I can.