Your photos, videos, memories… not worth protecting?


"Dreamland" burned, Coney Island, 5/27/11 (LOC) by The Library of Congress
“Dreamland” burned, Coney Island, 5/27/11 (LOC), a photo by The Library of Congress on Flickr.

You know you do. You have pictures from last year’s priceless family vacation still on the memory card in your camera. And the DVD or CD the wedding photographer gave you is going to be perfectly useful in ten years when you want to share it with your kids, right? Ok, maybe you’re ahead of the curve and have actually made an effort and bought an external storage drive. But are you using it the way it was intended? Sorry, all indications are your not.

Alright, enough of the badgering from the computer nerd. Here’s what I’m getting at. Over the last decade we have created more visual media of ourselves than was created in the last century (just my guess – go look it up and see if I’m right). We have pictures and videos ranging from weddings to what we had for lunch. It’s so simple because we don’t have to worry about developing and printing costs or even making the effort to get what we record produced. But that, it turns out, is the problem.

In years past we had our pictures and movies developed and printed. That gave us something to place in binders, shoeboxes or whatever. In any event, they took up space and had to be dealt with. As a result we kept track of them. Fast forward to today and all our pictures, hundreds of them, fit on a little postage stamp size card that is hidden in our camera.

Maybe we go so far as to immediately share it via Facebook or Twitpics, but again, that’s that (and it’s now out in “the wild” for anyone to use as they want, but that’s an entirely different rant). The pics get forgotten which means nothing gets done to protect them.

So what if

  1. you hand your camera to someone to take your picture and they inadvertantly press a button that erases your camera’s memory card? Poof! All your pictures/videos from last year(s) are gone. No takebacks.
  2. you lose your camera or it gets stolen? Oh-oh, I hope you deleted THOSE pictures.
  3. you were smart and bought an external drive and copied all your pictures and movies and music to it for safe keeping. And a few months later it does what every drive will ultimately do; it crashes.
  4. you paid the extra three hundred bucks to get your wedding safely tucked onto a CD/DVD which, by all media accounts, will last forever? Maybe you were real smart and put it in a safe deposit box. But wait, why didn’t anyone say anything about the data rotting in just a few years?
  5. your house burns down and everything in it is destroyed?

There’s really no excuse for not taking the few simple and inexpensive steps to protect your digital memories properly. When evaluating your options, consider the two minimum requirements for safekeeping:

  • Make duplicates
  • Store in different locations

I mentioned how you’re probably not using your external drive correctly. I hear time and time again from people knashing their teeth about how they just lost all their digital content when their external drive crashed. “Where are the originals?” is what I typically ask. “Originals?” Yeah, those original pictures, movies, song files. The ones you made copies of and stored the copies on the external drive. “Oops.”

External drives are not magical devices. They’re just like the drive in your computers except they are portable. Do I need to make the “putting all your eggs in one basket” comment now? No, I didn’t think so.

If you’re going to use an external drive, get two. That way you can always have one at a different location. Sitting on the desk next to your computer is not a different location. Nor is the shelf in another room in the same building. If these things truely are important to you, always have one drive in your safe deposit box (or at least out of your house/apartment). It’s easy for your memories to survive a fire or other catastrophic event this way.

The cycle is to copy all files, including the newest ones, to your external drive. Then store it offsite and bring in the drive with the previous backup and repeat this in a month or so. One last note on this strategy, be sure to swap the drives at the offsite location. That way you don’t have originals and all the copies sitting together.

Okay, so you’re not willing to jump through the hoops of buying technology and running around town. I hear ya. I don’t do it. Maybe if I had business data or clients’ files to deal with I would. So what should we do?

There are many free and low-cost services that enable you to upload your files to their servers via the Internet. This has become endearingly known as “cloud storage.” Flickr provides unlimited storage for $20/year and they allow you to upload photos and small videos which you can then set as private and only share with who you want. YouTube lets you upload larger videos while still allowing you to make them private and it’s free.

There are automatic backup services like Mozy, Backblaze, CrashPlan and Carbonite that will constantly monitor and backup all the important files on your computer(s) to their servers. These services are not as expensive as you would think and the backup doesn’t require you to remember to do it.

But again, these are not perfect systems. You still need to remember to keep another set of copies. Just in case.


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