Data rotting everywhere

I love David Pogue, the NY Times tech columnist. His column this week was about “data rot.”

The concept is that we are losing data in two ways–deterioration of media and changing technology. The deterioration happens when a hard drive crashes, a CD fails, a tape breaks, etc. I see changing technology on the shelf in front of me, which holds an aging collection of VHS tapes. Who remembers the 8-track? I still have hundreds of cassette tapes as well–many that I created in order to preserve my record albums (remember those?). Yes, I thought if I recorded those albums on cassette, then years later I could still play a nearly pristine album. Guess what? I still have my very expensive turntable, but just try finding a replacement needle for that sucker.

I’m in the process of copying my family videos to DVD, but that won’t last forever either. Before I go any further down that road, let me get back to the main topic–preserving my writing data. All those novels, short stories, pitches and ideas that I’ve created over the years are safe and sound in digital form–right?

I used to think so.

Recently I wanted to find a short story that I’d written several years ago. I thought it would be fun to revise it and put it on my website. Searching my files and backup files–the story was no where to be found. Vanished! How could this be? I’m so careful to preserve a copy of old work before deleting files. At least I think I’m careful. I keep backups on an external hard drive and on two different online storage systems, yet none of these locations held my short story.

Then I remembered the Click disc. It was a nice little product that fit into the PC card slot on the old laptops that had PC card slots. It held a 40 MB disc, which at the time seemed like a lot. I had dozens of them and I used them to back up files I wasn’t actively using–so that my hard drive wouldn’t fill up. Remember, at the time I probably had a 120MB hard drive.

Fortunately, I had purchased the external drive that can hold the PC card and play the discs on computers with no PC card slot. It took a while, but I did manage to get all those Clik discs to work. (Iomega does tend to make reliable products). I found my story and a lot of other things I thought I’d lost–like early drafts of my first novel. (Don’t ask me why I wanted these drafts, but I did). I saved everything onto my hard drive, then onto my backup drive and my online storage file as well. Safe and sound. Until something changes.

Maybe printing out and keeping a paper copy of my unpublished stories really is a good back-up solution.

And all those old family pictures I’ve been scanning and saving digitally? I’m beginning to think that keeping the hard copy isn’t such a bad idea after all. It turns out that paper is one of the most enduring of technologies.

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