I am a member of the Typewriter Generation. With pencil and ink, we stored information on paper and termed them “documents.” Not surprisingly, members of my generation tend to think of stored information in terms of tangible and authoritative things we persist in calling “documents.” But unlike use of the word “folder” to describe a data directory (despite the absence of any folded thing) or the quaint shutter click made by camera phones (despite the absence of shutters), couching requests for production as demands for documents is not harmless skeuomorphism. The outmoded thinking that electronically stored information items are just electronic paper documents makes e-discovery more difficult and costly. It’s a mindset that hampers legal professionals as they strive toward competence in e-discovery.
Does clinging to the notion of “document” really hold us back? I think so, because continuing to define what we seek in discovery as “documents” ties us to a two-dimensional view of four-dimensional information. The first two dimensions of a “document” are its content, essentially what emerges when you print it to paper or an image format like TIFF. But, ESI always implicates a third dimension, metadata and embedded content, and sometimes a fourth, temporal dimension, as we often discover different versions of information items over time.
The distinction becomes crucial when considering suitable forms of production and prompts a need to understand the concept of Fielding and Fielded Data, as well as recognize that preserving the fielded character of data is essential to preserving its utility and searchability.