what you can live without


(Note: Post has become much longer than I intended it to. You’ve been warned)

I recently realized that I was relying a tad too much on a 4 year old external hard drive. I went about acquiring “stuff” so that I may reverse this worrying trend.

Yes, yes, funky tech stuff.

And.. you guessed it. Midway through backing up, the 4 year old drive decided to conk. In one fell swoop, I lost 4-odd years’ worth of photos, movies, music and comics. All of which had been carefully archived over the past 4 years, regularly updated, organized and so on.


It took me a few weeks to get over thinking about the loss and what I could have done to avoid it.. all the time. Yes, it still twinges a bit when I remember a particular incident, the photo that I had of it.. and how I no longer have it. I’m recovering what I can from sundry sources.. but the large majority is history (I am still missing 2-odd years of photos). All of my personal collection, my random experimentation.. all of it. Poof.


(No, nothing happened to my personal data. Those were, over time, somehow placed in independent alternative locations, all of which should not implode all at once.)
In the days since, I’ve revamped how I back things up. How I think about what I want to preserve. I’ve looked into cloud storage solutions.. and how I can’t really find a good one. M$ and Google are in the process of setting it up, and are doing so very slowly. Outside of that there are few reliable unlimited options (yes, it has to be unlimited.. photos only tend to grow in size and amount).

But anyway, getting away from that particular debate (which I shall save for when I actually find a solution).. the large majority of the data that were lost were mostly media which I had accumulated over 6 years of storing things. I am a self-confessed pack-rat of the worst kind, I pick and save the most esoteric of items. You can imagine how happy I was that Google automatically archived everything I ever emailed out of my account. Bliss.
Anyway, I had managed to hold onto these data over multiple transfers across many computers and storage media (including shudder rewritable discs). And now, when I sit and think about it.. a lot of them appear to hold little value for re-acquisition. There was a stage (recently) where I put my most listened albums/MP3s onto a 40GB MP3 player. The rest were then archived onto the aforesaid external, and – if I am really honest – I must have listened to them maybe twice in the last 6 months. If that.
of gigabytes worth. Twice.

Yes, I know there are songs that suddenly strike you, and you must hear them that very second, but most of those songs are on the aforesaid player. Which is about half or so full.

In short, outside of this player, the music was just something I was holding on to. For the rainy day when I would have liked to listen to them. For what it was worth, for that fleeting moment of glorying in the fact that I had all this awesome music at my beck and call.

Let’s move on. Movies. I collect them avariciously. I don’t know how often I re-watch them. The largest part of my collection may have been watched once, at most. Again, those movies you can’t help but watch over and over.. are kept with easy access. Such as raanti Govinda movies. Watching 10 minutes of Saajan Chale Sasural can make the world seem like such a better place. Stupid 4-year old external hard drives wouldn’t crash at the most ironic of times in such a world.


Oh, and aforesaid raanti Govinda movies were somehow available elsewhere. Easily. Don’t ask me how that happened. As I said, easy access.

And finally, comics. I’ve probably read most of them but once. Collected them obsessively and then… kept them around. Just so I can go back and revisit.. which has probably never happened. What I did do was label and categorize them from as many sources as possible.. with the most comprehensive listing possible. I know. Neurotic. Its incredibly satisfying to see such a organized folder. You wouldn’t know, you savage, you.

The funny thing is, now that they are no longer around, I don’t find myself seeking desperately to recover them all ASAP. The must-listen music and the must-repeat-watch movies, as I said, are all available. For everything else, there is Netflix. A brilliant, brilliant service even more augmented by its recent baking into the PS3. So awesome. Add to that the fact that it lets you rent out Blu-Rays too.. the cup runneth over, I tell you. The few movies that I might like to collect for my personal storage can always be bought (though I’m fast getting convinced that physical media should be abandoned). Then of course there is Pandora. Maybe even a Zune Pass, if WinPhone7 is all its cracked up to. The items that took the longest to organize, tag and collect.. the data that I obsessively agonized over finding.. the comics are the least of my worries. At some point Marvel Digital Access may be bought to satisfy any craving I may have for revisiting ancient, long-forgotten comics.

In short, the large majority of the things that I was holding on to and saving, backing up, updating, archiving, organizing.. could so easily be done without.

Except the photos. Losing them is something I still can’t get over. I’m lucky that people actually pull things from my Pictures folder every once in a while; today that’s helping me salvage what I can. But still.

In the end its the frozen memories, the fleeting moments that I want to hold on to. Not much else. Everything else is so.. transient, that it just doesn’t matter.


12 thoughts on “what you can live without

  1. Man, that sucks. Especially the picture loss. I should back mine up. I have a harddrive backup, but have been thinking about making an optical one. It’s just so time consuming.

    I was thinking about accumulated files today too. My 320GB laptop drive is almost full and I’m debating upgrade vs. declutter. I’m leaning toward upgrade because I’m too lazy to sort through all of files, though most of them are music I never listen to, movies I never watch, etc, as you pointed out. For some reason, I can’t part with any of it and I feel like an asshole. It’s accumulation for the sake of accumulation.

    Anyway, hope you can reconstruct your photo collection.

    • SEV

      I used to do optical backups.. but that damn time factor.

      What you described is exactly how I ended up with all that stuff in the first place.. I think. “Accumulation for the sake of it” about sums it up.

      It takes a catastrophe I wouldn’t wish on anyone, to realize what you’ve been doing. And start from scratch again, I guess.

      • Same here on optical backups. Even with DVDs it’s a thankless, grueling chore. Plus, if you do it regularly you end up with a mountain of dvds or cds that you have to store somewhere. And then what? You shave to destroy the really old ones or save them until you die?

        Again, that really sucks about your data loss. Sorry man. There’s nothing to be done to recover it?

        • SEV

          I tried the ‘hard-drive-in-freezer’ trick, but it only worked for 10 minutes or so after I took it out — nowhere close to enough time to actually recover the data.

          Most pro data recovery is pretty expensive, trying to see if I can get it done for cheap somewhere. We’ll see how it goes..

  2. While I do understand the immediate shock one gets when such a loss happens, I can only say certain things for sure:
    1. Taking a cue from my father who always said “keep a thing for 7 years”, I would say if you have not looked at something you have collected for 6 months it is not worth spending more time in protecting it thru backups.
    2. Foolproof backups have associated costs and one must keep up with the technology too – LPs, cassettes, CDs, DVDs and now blue-rays!! Recall how much importance data-loss risk management attained as an aftermath of 9/11.
    3. In Internet age people want everything free – mails clutter your mail-box because it is free. In pre-internet days, were physical letters cluttering your house?
    4. Collection can be easy but if one cannot locate an item when it is required, then there is no use of such collections – they are just junks.
    5. Ultimately time is the healer for all these – be it loss of such pix, people et al. Our own views on collections change as life progresses.

  3. I agree with the photos being the most valuable thing you could have lost. I once deleted 80 Gb worth of movies by accident. And then was amazed at how totally normal i felt. no kicking myself no nothing. However what I find somewhat troubling is not knowing what you have lost. There might be songs in their that you may never hear again in life , just because fate wills it so. Its a similar pang I feel when I catch a good song on the radio or at the Gap , just when its about to end and have no way of knowing what song it was.

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