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.

7 responses to “On Why You Should Back Up”

  1. Back when my consulting work included modernizing office technology, and during my years as the PC trainer for the admin arm of Penn State, I preached back-up. Few listened. Many paid a dear price. My data has survived four HD crashes and a motherboard crash that took out two more. (Through the early 90s, MTTF was much worse and the HDs were more surge-vulnerable). And yet, I still have files from the mid-1980s.

    Therefore, it was with great pleasure that (a) you have been wise regarding backup and (b) that I am not the only tech-savvy graybeard who periodically makes the trype of boneheaded choices. (Did I ever tell you about the day in 1974, when I deleted my agency’s entire data library?)

    Well done, sir!


    1. The entire data library?! Man you’re good!


      1. Yep. About two years of data files. We worked through a remote terminal connected to the SUNY-Binghamton academic mainframe. Fortunately, the system was lightly used – many departments never accessed their alloted disk space and one of our staff knew how to pirate the space we needed to make an unauthorized backup folder.

        I had been updating some data. When I went to close out, it asked me Save/Delete/Restore. And then I hit the incorrect option.


        1. It feels like the floor’s caved in beneath you, doesn’t it?! Yikes


  2. Begorrah but I can identify with this. With the stopped heart, mostly. And the folly of trying to tidy up what people of my age cannot understand and should never mess with. In what I took to be an admirably prudent move to ensure remote backup, I started moving my key files to Google Drive a few weeks ago. Several heart stops and much hair loss later, I’m still at it.


    1. Well, you can imagine my relief when all of my photos reappeared, exactly where they had been, after the 7-hour process of restoring my entire hard drive from the backup. Fortunately I have my computer set to back up automatically, so I never even think about it – Mac’s Time Machine backs up hourly, and I had complete backups going back to 2014! I have also been keeping all of my document files on Microsoft’s One Drive for the last couple of years, so I have 2-way protection: my docs are on my hard drive, on the backup drive, and in the cloud. It’s one of those things where it never seems important, until suddenly it is! Glad to hear you’re moving your stuff to the cloud, too: you might never need it, but if you do, you’ll thank your stars!


  3. I think we’ve all been there. Before the days of dropbox I lost my MSc after my computer crashed. Luckily I had a backup.. but within a week that system as well crashed leaving me with a few files on various flashsticks and not much else. These days I do everything on dropbox. What a lifesaver! It keeps all of your files and also allows you to restore older versions if you need to. If dropbox ever decides to crash though, that will be the end of my PhD 😦


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