Humans have been trying to devise the best way to keep track of records and important information for centuries. From scrolls and manuscripts to floppy disks and beyond, we’re constantly searching for the most effective data storage option as our technologies continue to develop and improve. Following is a brief and selective overview of electronic data storage from its beginnings to the present.
Punch cards, and later punch tape, were developed in the textile industry in the 1700s for use in mechanized looms. The perforations in paper provided instructions for the machines on what types of patterns should show up in the fabric. Punch cards evolved into punch tape, which could hold significantly more data, and these types of data storage continued in use for about 200 years.
Among other technological storage developments in the mid-20th century was magnetic tape. The cassette tape is the most commonly known form of magnetic tape use – one roll of this tape could hold as much data as 10,000 punch cards would have held. Overlapping in time with the cassette tape are floppy disks, which many of us remember being involved with our first experience with personal computers. The first floppies were 8-inch plastic squares that were flexible (hence their name) and were introduced in 1969. As time passed and technology continued to advance, by the 1990s, floppy disks became much smaller and could hold more data – 250MB on a 3-inch disk compared to 80KB on an 8-inch disk.
In the 1980s and 1990s, CDs and DVDs emerged onto the market. CDs can hold around 700 MB of data and ordinary single-layer DVDs approximately 4.7 GB. While this is significantly more than was ever possible before, the new developments have continued. USB flash drives were introduced in 2000, and they were revolutionary. Some can hold up to 256 GB, and they were the most portable popular form of data storage available yet. SD cards, which emerged around the same time as USB flash drives, offer an even smaller way to store large amounts of data. SD cards, typically used for data storage in mobile phones, digital cameras, game consoles, and other electronics, can hold a few gigabytes on a few millimeters of physical space, making them perfect for duplication for commercial use.
As digital technologies continue to expand and advance, it’s hard to say what the next development in data storage will be, but if the past is any indication, data storage capabilities will keep on growing exponentially.