A deadline-beating records retention discussion this week led into a very interesting dissection of time: how it is defined in computing terms, what it means for systems that are expressly designed to impose long-term content control, and how important it is not to rush to judgment.
The first major point of focus, of course, was Y2K, which turned out to be pretty much a non-event either because (a) the steps taken in the late 1990s to avoid major problems actually worked or (b) there weren’t going to be any problems, and the great fear that our computers would fail at the turn of the century were simply overblown. (For what it’s worth, my vote is for (a). Call it rationalization if you must!)
This quickly led us to the Year 2038 Problem, which echoes Y2K in that computers are expected to freak out when they run into the limit of their ability to calculate the seconds elapsed since January 1, 1970 – the date established as the beginning of computing time by early developers. This is anticipated for the wee hours of January 19, 2038, after which who knows what will happen, and before which steps must be taken to ensure that solutions working with dates far into the future – like retention schedules – are adjusted.
There’s obviously plenty of time for today’s records professionals and software developers to save us from this latest catastrophe-in-the-making. But in its own weird way, it reminds us that we’re dealing with much more than present-day problems and must take something of a longer view if we want to put our records- and content-keeping on solid footing.
And that’s worth taking time to consider.
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