The half-life of data

These days we live in a world where information is oddly durable and oddly ephemeral.  In the long run only plastic survives as well as a pottery shard, so our archaeological legacy will mouse mats and promotional mugs.  The ones and zeros you are reading right now will have disappeared long before the last person to leave flicks off the switch.  Even so, online data endures: when I google myself (doesn’t everyone do that?)  I find a 10 year old post in a news group about Terry Pratchett.   

However, data on specific machines is frighteningly fragile.  Recently – and it’s hard for me to admit this in public – I had a data back-up disaster.  To cut this embarrassing story short, I carefully selected all my most precious and pertinant files and … deleted them.  Recovery software helped me restore some things, but the rest were blown  into random bits and bytes.  This included things going back 10 years or so, and a lot of the interim backups.  We are talking data armageddon.

What has been a surprise is that the whole exercise has been something of a data-detox.  It was strangely cleansing to be freed of folders of stuff relating to bad times.   After the initial shock I found that the only things that I really minded are the personal and creative stuff.  Thankfully, the best of the photos are on Picassa and the creative writing came back via the Way Back Machine.  A few weeks on, the only things I mind losing are the soft copies of two of my MSc assignments.  Other than that… not much really.  In fact, other than that, it’s been decidedly liberating.

The obvious lesson, of course, is to store off-site and on other media.

But I wonder if the real lesson is the one about letting go and moving on,  being the person you are now not the person you were then, treading the hard-drive lightly and all that guff.

Which seems a timely thought as one year fades and a new one starts.  So let me wish you a good and happy Christmas and hope that the New Year is a time when we all let go of things best left behind.

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