Remember the physical before we regret it

Published on 5 July 2008 in , , ,

I sometimes feel that there is an inherent contradiction in parts of my life.

Take technology. I like technology. Technology is cool. I like the convenience of my MP3 player. My photos have never been better since I got a digital camera so that I can see what I’ve taken, and improve instantly. My PVR hoovers up TV programmes and gives them to me in a nice menu.

But surrounding me is a plethora of “stuff”. Almost every piece of music on my MP3 player is associated with a physical CD for example. Digital music has benefits, but what if my hard drive fails and I lose all copies of my music?

I have the fear that the technology that surrounds me, will fail and let me down.

That fear is most accute for my photographs. On Flickr there are nearly 3,000 of my photos from the last three years. Average it out and that’s a 1,000 photos every year. 1,000 memories. 1,000 nice views. 1,000 good days.

I’m paranoid about my photographs – and indeed the metadata that surrounds them. When I last evaluated photo management software on Linux, I discounted them all – partially because they didn’t integrate with Flickr in a way that supported how I use it, but more because I couldn’t see any easy ways of abstracting any meta data I entered into those applications.

If, for example, I used F-Spot now, what would happen in 10 years time and suddenly F-Spot was unavailable? And no one had built a tool to convert all my data into something else. For that reason, my photo management consists of me putting pictures into named directories, and putting data in an Spreadsheet – mapping filenames to descriptions, titles and tags. This then gets copied into Flickr. If push comes to shove and in 10 years time doesn’t exist, at least I’ll stand a far better chance of being able to get to my data.

Of course everything is in Flickr too. But will Flickr be around for ever? True, I’ve always got the originals (backed up regularly on DVD too). But say JPG disappears? Will I wake up one day and find none of my files work? Hey, I’ve got files locked down in Lotus WordPro format that I can’t easily open. Thankfully they’re not important�

What if technology goes under. What if suddenly there aren’t computers – what if they’re wiped out by war? What if, all of a sudden, aliens invade and enslave us?

Extremely paranoid? Moi? Err… Actually yes. Frequently I think about what will happen in not just 10 years, but 50. What will happen when I’m 80? Maybe actually having stuff – physical stuff – will be a good thing. If I was to get to 80 and suddenly find I didn’t have any remnants of a huge chunks of my life, well that’s just not something I want to contemplate. Maybe we should remember the physical before we potentially regret it…


  • Phil Wilson says:

    So, to look at the *very* physical, what procedures do you have in place to make sure that these things can be dealt with in the event of your unexpected death? Rather morbid, I know, but my family would be gutted if suddenly all my photos or whatever were locked into some system they couldn’t access (I think it’s Yahoo’s policy to not give access to relatives of the deceased user, don’t know about the other major providers).
    How’s that for real paranoia 😉

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Wow. That’s a good point! Another good reason to make sure there’s always local copies it has to be said.