On Why You Should Back Up

I don’t exactly need to go looking for an existential crisis, at my age. Simply getting up in the morning is enough. But if there’s one thing liable, in this digital age of ours, to bring the strongest of humans to their knees, it’s the loss of a hard drive. More precisely, its contents.

Not that I have lost either. The truth is more embarrassing. You see, in some misplaced fit of geekiness, or tidiness (which is next to geekiness, in the pantheon of pathetic virtues) I thought, yesterday morning, that I would tidy up my hard drive. Specifically, that I would move some 13,000 photos, over a hundred gigabytes worth, from my root directory (you’re impressed, aren’t you, at my technical sophistry?) to my Lightroom folder. From storage in outer darkness, into the warm light of the software in which I craft my images. Tidier, see? More elegant.

Except, in Lightroom, you can’t just drag and drop folders willy nilly, ‘cos Lightroom won’t recognise ’em. You have to import the files, which builds a catalogue. So I dragged and I dropped, I imported and I catalogued – and in my several attempts at this process contrived to create enough duplicates to fill up my hard drive, which is no mean feat, seeing as it has a terabyte of memory – and created, moreover, filing system chaos, which was the opposite of what I intended.

Leave it till morning, I thought wisely: approach the clean-up with a clean mind and something like optimism. So this morning, after carefully checking that there were actual images in the set of folders I intended to keep, I equally carefully identified which folders could be deleted, and deleted them. Checked again, and decided it was safe to empty the trash can. Went happily upstairs to make a cup of tea – until something made me go downstairs again to check, just in case, you understand, that all was in order. Well, there was the trashcan, tearing through files, and when I checked, just to make sure, there were the files I had identified as keepers, the folders still there, but emptied of images. And by images I mean all the photos of Jonathan and Hayley’s wedding, all our photos of Etosha and Twyfelfontein – everything, in fact, from the last five years or more.

I didn’t know before now that your heart could stop, and then kick back in again, five minutes later. When sanity returned, I thought to check on my backups, on an external hard drive, in Time Machine – and there, innocent and sweet as the day is long, were all of my photos. The hard drive on my Mac is too full, and the filing system too fucked up, to be able to restore them: instead, I am doing an emergency restore of the entire drive, using the backup from the day before yesterday. It will take six or seven hours to get back to the status quo ante.

Which is why, boys and girls, you should always keep backups.