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Confessions of a Digital Hoarder

Updated on January 9, 2014

To Back Up or not Back Up, that is the question

You hear the story of someone who lost or had their mobile phone stolen, and on this phone they had all their important information, pictures, lots of stuff they’d really hate to loose. Is it sympathy they deserve, or castigating for failing to back up all their important information?

Don’t answer because views will differ and this is not the subject under discussion.

While there are those that don’t back up their important data, there are those that do and then those that take it to the opposite extreme, backing up everything, repeatedly, and then hesitating to discard older versions of any file for fear a newer version might become corrupted.

The chance of a backup file becoming corrupted may seem slim in this modern age, with Clouds and portable hard drives, but I’m of the older generation, from when a computer could going phut, either silently with no sign of its death until the next time you try to turn it on, or loudly in a shower of sparks, was not such an unusual event. Of course they still do, but I remember when and Amstrad 2086 was state of the art. I can also remember back to before Windows, to running DOS, and before that to GW Basic, when applications were called programmes.

Of course we now have Cloud storage, and back up hard drives and memory stick. Even writing a back up CD has become old hat, of which I have stacks filled with duplicated or slightly updated versions of old files I’ll probably never need, though maybe.

This is the digital hoarders dilemma, do I ditch something I’ll probably never need, but just might. But it gets worse. I’ve still got some files on 3.5” floppy discs, totally defunct unless using a really old computer, and then I wonder whether the newer ‘applications’ could read the disc. I hesitate to mention the 5.25” discs I recently discovered stacked on the back of the shelf.

Keeping a stack of back up discs isn’t so bad, they don’t take up much room, the real problem here is my laxity of labelling when done. Floppy discs were easier to write on than CDs, but there’s only a small space, enough to allow a generalised guide to what’s there. As for CDs, they hold more, but finding the one containing what I might need to look for is going to be a nightmare. An example of this is one labelled, ‘Odd Stuff.’ What this contains, I have no idea! It wouldn’t be so bad if it was the only one so labelled and considering that these are mostly back ups of stuff I’m working on, with the most up to date still on my hard drive, oh yes, I’ve got a separate one of those as well, with everything backed up, with the computer set to do this automatically, so why do I need to keep these old discs? Well, a separate hard drive is still electronic and therefore, has the potential to go phut, either quietly so I don’t know it’s gone phut until I try to access the file I might need, or in a cloud of sparks, meaning I’ll know, but still won’t be able to access that file, if I need it, which I might not, probably never will.

The worst part of digital hoarding though, is not the stack of old discs, its knowing that most modern, up to date computers and applications will look at these like an explorer looking for the first time at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The solution is to hold on to the old system, that huge tin box, chunky monitor with its heavy tube, plus keyboard, mouse, maybe a printer and scanner too. Your modern system might object to using stone age tools, and this all takes up space, and every year everything gets upgraded and modernised and if to emphasise this, the new iMac version of Numbers won’t read files from the early version unless those files are upgraded to the one before, but after the one you’ve got, because digital hoarders hesitate to upgrade because it might make their hoard of backed up files obsolete.

So I might not loose my important information because I didn’t back up, but because I saved them on ancient clay tablets that can no longer be read by any modern system.

So now I’ve got a new computer, bang up to date, running Mavericks, a good old cowboy name, but I’ve still got my old iMac, running Snow Leopard, wouldn’t you guess. Then I’ve got an even older MacBook, running Mountain Lion. The old PC went to the tip, it did go phut, not silently and not in a shower of sparks, but by giving off smoke signals like the indians of old, though at leafs I had all my files backed up.




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