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If it’s All Digital, Won’t You Lose it Anyway?

I had a thought about everything being digital: is there a chance that important information can be lost? From important and historical information to irreplaceable pictures, etc. I was holding a picture of me from 1980 (yes, genuine film). Had there been digital scanners and fast enough computers back then, the 5¼-inch disk would be unreadable by today’s drives. The disk would probably have errors, if you could find a used hard drive to even read it for your precious memories. Never mind historians, scholars, and the young storing all of their Facebook information in the Cloud only. I use external media and more than one type. I don’t know anyone who backs up a single thing, no matter how many speeches I give them.

Yes, it’s true. In fact, I hear about it pretty much every day: digital information can be lost quite easily.

But that’s not an indictment of digital technology at all. In fact, digital data opens up more possibilities for data retention than it closes.

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Original materials

Digital can be lost easily, but then, so can film. Let’s use your example of an original photo.

If you think about it, that photo can be lost or damaged in any number of ways. Aside from scratches, fingerprints, and fading, there are bends, tears, and foxing on the edges. That’s why historians take such precious care of original material like that.

The problem is that the film picture is exactly one, and only one, original. If something happens to that, it’s gone. This is pretty much the canonical case of there being one and only one copy.

35mm negative Now, you can make copies of physical photos, but it may take a bit of effort and time, and the copies – no matter how good – are never quite as good as that original. You also have to physically store it (in an album or a box).

The digital copy of your original digital photographs can be duplicated for backup and other purposes easily and quickly. It’s also more likely to be saved or converted to new file types – as long as you remember to copy the file off that old 5¼-inch disk when new technology comes along.

In the end, your argument is about backing up. Too many people don’t back up, lose precious data, and blame the technology. Fortunately, digital records give us more opportunities to protect and keep precious memories safer than ever before.

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6 comments on “If it’s All Digital, Won’t You Lose it Anyway?”

  1. Me backing up my photos and such is one thing, but what about information of greater importance?

    I have often wondered about how physically secure information (records) being generated today really are. Too, HOW are they kept, and where? For example, a young person enters the labor force. Records of his or her earnings, contributions to social security, etc., are kept how—totally electronically? I’m not sure it can be argued that hard copies are more likely to survive. Certainly electronic copies can be accessed, manipulated and duplicated more easily than hard copies. But what happens if somehow—and I have no idea how it could happen—these electronic records are destroyed by whatever means that could destroy them. This could be a catastrophe of biblical proportions. And I’m sure there are those out there who would literally die to wreak havoc with records of such importance. I suppose my question is, just how secure are digital records? What are the vulnerabilities?

    • Theres no way to know. I will say that the paper originals can be destroyed instantly and at once, whereas digital copies are hopefully and more likely backed up at several locations, all of which would have to disappear for the data to be completely destroyed.

  2. Funny that you published this article about storing photos today. I have over 6000 35 mm slides dating from 1950 into the 1980’s. Most of the early ones are family photos. I finally bought a digital slide scanner and over the weekend started to digitize my slides. The Kodachrome slides are as good today as they were back then. However, most of the others have turned pink and lost details. I used the non-Kodachrome to save money, they looked good back then; but, the processors also saved money by stretching the amount of film they developed beyond the amount the developer was designed to process.
    I don’t know if any of the detail can be recovered.

  3. I have lost hundreds of photos and files over the years because they were on a computer that crashed for one reason or another. Some of these were backed up onto disks but not all by any means. You would say, back them up. I most recently backed up onto an external hard drive touted by another computer guru using Windows 10. When that OS crashed after three weeks, that external hard drive would not back up into my now restored Windows 7. (Something similar happened with Macrium.) The only photos I could rescue were those on disks or the few I had moved to the cloud. I am an individual with a desktop who tries to stay up with technology in order to save and work with photos, music, and writings. I use a lot of data space. If I have to constantly copy onto disk, it takes the fun out of the projects, so I rely on the external HDD. I tried, it failed. The cloud is only moderately helpful for a person on a budget. One can play worst-case-scenarios, but for me having old paper is comforting.

  4. This is a way to lose it all. I do backups, semi regularly. It was time to backup my laptop, so I plugged in my USB hard drive. The backup failed. OK. Reboot and try again. Reboot failed to load, no operating system. Turned out the hard drive was wiped, totally. No problem, Grab recovery CD, and restore. Failed, backup hard drive was also totally wiped, Blank. I was using Macrium Reflect.
    Everything on the laptop was gone, but everything of importance was also saved on a desktop unit.

    • Good that you had a third copy. That’s why Leo recommend the 3-2-1 backup method.
      3 Copies (absolute minimum. I have 5)
      2 Backup formats (I take system image backups plus I use OneDrive to synchronize all of my personal files. If you prefer, you can use paper hard copies or even 2 different backup programs like Macrium Reflect and EaseUS Todo)
      1 One offsite backup (OneDrive is offsite, but I also swap a disk that I keep at work)

      The advantage of digital is that you can have several copies of your data.


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