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Data Zen

February 23, 2013

It’s been some time since I last updated. Here I am, still alive without a scorch mark to be seen. Should I get more inflammatory?

Today’s post was largely handwritten – recently I’ve been ruminating on the difference in quality between handwritten writings and typed writings. A lot of us, myself included, have been neglecting the art of longhand (although I tend to write in barely legible cursive scrawls). When was the last time you picked up a pen to write something, rather than to sign your name or to fill in a form? But all this is a post for another day, today is about the increasingly ephemeral characteristic of modern life.

Some days ago I was helping set up my parents’ company website (among other general miscellaneous chores) and their office assistant asked about a problem she was having with opening folders  from a pendrive on a newer computer. It turned out the trouble was in the form of a virus, and if you know me, you’d know that me plus virii¹ equals thermonuclear disaster (not really). Some major detox was in order. And yet they were quite reluctant to start scrubbing – understandable, since cleaning viruses tends to equal cleaning  formerly useful files, and rarely can infected files be recovered.

Still, I left them to it; long story short, the virus was wiped and everyone lived happily ever after. Or shall we? (Cue dramatic music).

In any case, I got to thinking about the ephemeral quality of data, and how indispensable data is to us these days, in spite of that.

Think about it. What would you do on the blackest of black days when you got Mat Honan-ed; your buddies dropped your backup drives off the twelfth floor into a swimming pool; Facebook, Google and Twitter all abruptly declared you an evil bot and delete all your accounts; and your desktop (or laptop) hard drive clicks the dreadful click of death?

Tickticktickticktickfuckwhywon’tmycomputerstarttickticktick.

The first thing you’d do might be to freak the fuck out. The second might be to immediately try to save as much data as possible.

Having been on the very unpleasant end of hard drive demise, I’ve since learned to cultivate a fairly loose attitude towards the importance of my files.

Although losing my massive music folder, fattened lovingly over the years like an aural cow,  would be a huge pain. That is why I have at least two other backups, one of which I mirror regularly and the other a mostly abandoned spare. But losing it wouldn’t be the end of me. I can’t really think of any other particularly important data I can’t afford to lose. Maybe vacation pictures, but I’ve lost them before – everything before roughly 2004 – and I’m still around. Working under the principle of “if I can’t remember it, I guess it wasn’t that important” is helpful. Also, having anything noteworthy sitting in the clouds is also quite helpful.

To have so much of our lives in bits and bytes is quite unprecedented in human history. It’s fascinating how one might deeply mourn the loss of data as if it had always been a profoundly important part of life. But aren’t all these files just a catalogue of human experiences? Each picture or text or video, I imagine, extending slender spidersilk tendrils to bind you into a digital existence, to unite the world in a form of cyborg utopia. Chains and shackles, all of it.

Maybe, the next time you lose a file – Microsoft Word force closes without a backup – don’t despair, my friend, because you just became – infinitesimally – free².

¹ This word does not exist and I am a foolish plebe for using it. Like, whatevs.
² Except for all the overtime you’ll have to put in to rewrite that junk. Good luck!

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