The fiction of the paperless office
Computers, we were promised, would do away with the need for paper records. What a load of rubbish. Paper doesn’t last forever but it lasts a lot longer (hundreds – in some cases, thousands – of years longer) than digital media. If you want to keep something for posterity, the best way to ensure you’ll retain it is to print it. You may still lose the paper, but if you don’t have a ‘hard’ copy, I guarantee that you’ll lose your work sooner than you might think.
All machinery fails eventually
If you’ve ever suffered from a hard drive crash and have lost information as a result then you’ll understand what I’m talking about: deep down, in your gut. Yes, we should keep backup copies, but, people being people, generally, we just don’t. Those who design computers haven’t yet managed to provide us with something that automatically backs up our work for us. I really don’t understand why not, since it would be a way of encouraging consumer loyalty (especially if the backup technology were a proprietary technique).
Let me tell you a story, about a story. In the mid-1980s I wrote a short story, using a machine called an Amstrad PCW (Personal Computer Wordprocessor), which used 3-inch floppy disks. Meticulously, I kept backups. But one day (some years later) the machine died and – oh look, it was obsolete, no replacements anywhere. I bought a PC to replace it. The PC had a 3.5-inch floppy drive, my 3-inch disks were incompatible, useless. This was before eBay: but a check there today shows none of these machines on offer; in any case I’ve long since thrown out the 3-inch disks (including the backups) anyway. Isn’t progress wonderful?
Before the Internet (and even before local networks), there was a thing called ‘sneakernet’. To transfer a file from one machine to another, you would put it onto a floppy disk, run over (on your sneakers) to the other machine and hey, presto: automatic backups as well as data transfer… until the floppies themselves become obsolete. Remember 5.25" floppy disks? Obsolete. Even 3.5" floppies are on their way out: PCs are no longer sold with floppy drives as standard fittings. And in any case a floppy doesn’t hold much, not by today’s standards. Today, you’d use a USB ‘pen drive’…
… which is how I currently deal with the problem, without having to print everything out. Hard copy is good, but it does have one serious drawback: if you need to put it back into a machine then that can take a LONG time. So I have a directory (folder) on my PC that I call ‘datasafe’, in which I store all the data that I want to keep for the long-term. Every now and then, I copy the entire directory to a pen drive; that’s my backup. But it’s also my ‘master’ copy: if I do some work on a different PC, the datasafe directory gets copied from the pen drive to that machine, and then copied back again when I’m done making changes. Works for me.