Is it better to store files in books?

This was originally posted on February 12, 2018 and was rewritten and reuploaded on October 17, 2019

The lifespan of a floppy disk is 20 years, the lifespan of a magnetic tape 10 years, and the lifespan of some hard disks is only 5 years. By comparison, the oldest books in the world are thousands of years old, as old as civilisation itself, coming from the ancient kingdoms of Sumeria and Egypt. Evidently, books are much more durable than even our most durable technological storage. Therefore, do we owe it to our future generations to start backing up our digital media as 1s and 0s in books, ensuring that they'd last thousands of years in physical form?

Picture of a book.
This is a book.[1]

An A4 piece of papercan fit approximately 5000 1s or 0s, or 5 Kb of information, if we use a 10 pt font and sensible margins. That's a disappointingly small amount. But we can greatly improve on this if we don't limit ourselves to having a human readable piece of paper - we can fit much more by reducing the font size to barely readable, printing double sided, and having the most minimal margins. With all these improvesments, we can expect around 50,000 bits on each page (6.25 KB).

It is hopefully quite obvious that this is not a good way of storing written words – language is a much more dense than bits. However, there currently is no future-proof way to ensure our music today is heard as it should be - just recording score in notes and bars doesn't capture the essence of the music as it is heard on record or in mp3s. Is this the best way of recording music for future generations? MP3s are typically 128 Kb/s. Applying that to our bits per paper means a book of 4'300 pages could hold Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up replacing the space taken up by your Song of Ice and Fire collection on your bookshelf. This is worth it.

But we can do better! Instead of inking 1s and 0s on paper, we can instead use hexadecimal to store four times as much information in the same amount of paper, cutting our Rick Astley volume to the mere size of a large book. But there's no reason to limit ourselves to only hex, we have over 100'000 characters in unicode, each of which could represent a series of 1s and 0s, theres no limit to the compression we could achieve, potentially storing megabytes on a single A4! This could then easily be read back in future generations with advanced OCR technology, so long as the key is stored somewhere.

I'm not seriously advocating this. But... maybe...?

Footnotes