Until today (and the final news on this remains to be seen) I was one of the only people I knew who had not, in my lifetime of computer use, had an honest-to-Gates crash of a hard drive. I have crashed a computer, many, many times, and have even several times experienced significant loss of data, but all of that was on me, for making bad decisions with software. In my 10 years as an every day laptop user, I have yet to have one of my hard-traveled machines fail me*, and in this I know I am both extremely lucky and, at any moment, one minute away from ruin.
Nearly everyone I know has suffered some kind of hard drive failure. I mean the kind of thing where one day, you’re watching Hulu videos, reading the New York Times, worrying about the spacing on your thesis, and making red-eye edits to your seventy-five thousand photos of your cat, and the next day, the thing won’t even turn on. That kind of failure. The kind that makes the guy at the computer store cringe and say things you don’t want to hear, like, “back to the factory,” “these things just happen,” and “one thousand dollars.”
They also inevitably say this: “But you have everything backed up, right?” I used to be in the vast, idiotic majority who would have, at any time, answered no to that question. But at some point I became an adult, realized that my entire livelihood at the moment rests on the spinning disc of a machine I batter endlessly, and starting backing my computer up. I discovered Mozy.com, which is a beautiful, endlessly elegant and reliable service, and became a evangelist for it (I use it and have even restored from it on my Macbook). I also use Carbonite (logo: Because your life is on your PC), which, for $50 a year, provides unlimited, daily, backgrounded backups for my nephew-video-laden PC.
This morning, I turned on my desktop PC and saw it: the blue screen of hardware failure death. I had an instinctive, visceral moment of panic, and then I remembered: oh yeah. Everything is already backed up. If it’s broken, no big deal. And then: relief. Thirty minutes later, I was staring at the total backups of everything on my computer, updated just yesterday, and feeling pretty much on top of the world.
And so, from this high vantage point of computer snobbery, I can say the following with confidence: if you aren’t backing up your computer, you’re a dumbass.
It’s very, very, ridiculously simple to back up your computer. There are countless online services that will do it for you. There are external hard drives well under $100 that plug and play. Every computer made in the last five years has a CD burner, and nearly all of them have DVD burners. In the same way that when you buy a car, it comes with seatbelts, computers come with many avenues of safety — so when there’s a crash, if you lose everything, chances are, it’s your fault. In the time it takes you to change the layout of your MySpace page, you could be saving all those photos of Frisky forever.
If the only existing copy of your masterwork is on a disc that spins at thousands of revolutions per minute, which, should it come to any kind of abrupt halt, could conceivably lock that information away forever — what do you think you should do? Just hope nothing will happen? Has that ever in the history of humankind ever prevented something wicked from coming this way? Oh, I hope Iran doesn’t get a nuclear bomb. Let’s make that our foreign policy and see what happens. Better yet: try using hope in place of contraception. I’ll see you at the shower.
Again, I say: nearly everyone I know has suffered some kind of hard drive failure. That means I’ve done the hard drive hand-holding dozens of times. I’m tired of it. It consists of days of whining while the person waits for news of his or her information. Every conversation is consumed by out-loud wondering about what could be lost, and the sentence, “I was going to back things up, I was just thinking about it,” is tossed around like a raquetball. Sympathy is expected, because, hey, they meant well, right? A person suffering a hard disc failure inevitably sees him or herself as some kind of victim — if only they made those drives better. If only there had been some warning.
Here is your warning: your computer is going to crash.
Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and quickly, and without reason or recourse. It’s a spinning disc in a thin metal box. Shit happens. Back up now. What are you waiting for, a sign?