1. Lasting or remaining without essential change: “the universal human yearning for something permanent, enduring, without shadow of change” (Willa Cather).
2. Continuing in the same state, or without any change that destroys form or character; remaining unaltered or unremoved; abiding; durable; fixed; stable; lasting; as, a permanent impression.
Eternity stands permanent and fixed. --Dryden.
Many people have different definitions of permanent. Permanent might mean anything from a few hours to a few millennia depending on what you're talking about. If you're a mason, your work is much more permanent than say an ice sculptor. But in the time span of a wedding that ice sculpture better be a permanent fixture or that lovely bride will definitely be looking to put some heads on a platter. When we are talking about photography the word permanent or archival means that we would at least like it to last throughout our lifetime or ideally for several lifetimes so our children and others can enjoy the images as they were originally intended.
Ideally when digital photographs are printed with quality materials and properly framed behind glass they will easily last several generations before they even begin to degrade. That's if they are kept in a proper archival environment out of the sun. When we are discussing the subject of digital photography, permanent could technically mean forever if the process is done correctly. Unfortunately, our digital images have the potential to last forever but their vulnerability to outside influences, deterioration, technology changes and information loss poses a much greater threat. We'll discuss these influences in detail in future discussions.
When working with digital files you're lucky on one side of the coin. Digital files are electronic bits and bytes that never get old or deteriorate. They can't be eaten by mold or slobbered on by your dog or ripped by a malicious child. Once they are properly placed on quality media the information will be stable for a long time and it has the potential to last forever. In the real world though the problem that we photographers face is not with the actual photographic data but everything else needed to store, access, preserve and present those digital images. Your storage media design, your equipment, and your environment play a much greater role in how long your bits and bytes will last than you think. Even if you take great strides to ensure that you buy the best media and the most expensive equipment there will always be trouble waiting around the bend.