Backups, data loss, and data hoarding

There's a story going around about losing data and it got me thinking about how I approach backups and why the worry about personal data loss just doesn't resonate with me.

Basically, I don't take backups of my personal data seriously. I have very little that actually matters. My thesis, some tax documents, resume, and logins. That's about it. Pretty much everything else is disposable. Code, images, music, videos, old software. Honestly, I have it, but if it were to disappear, it wouldn't matter that much.

"O rly?" you might be thinking. Well, consider this: I have a couple external drive enclosures that house most of that stuff and I haven't even turned them on in at least 3 months. All the pictures and videos I've accumulated since then are sitting on another drive that I've not backed up. If they suddenly disappeared, well, I might be a bit miffed, but then I'd realize I never look at it.

That's basically the gist of it. I have a lot of digital detritus that accumulates and it turns out, for the vast majority of it, it's a write-only collection. I went through my image collection once in the past 10 years looking for something that, honestly, wasn't terribly important (although I admit that I appreciated it). I've never watched the movies I've stored. The old software is for posterity and maybe deserves better treatment, but it's not like I have anything unique.

Others I've talked to about this end up being the pretty much the same place: lots of data that is never revisited. Very few people are going to go through their thousands of photos and sort them. Most access is to something that was pretty recent. Once it gets older, it's forgotten.

Photos and videos are basically the only way you can accumulate gigabytes of personal data. Personal documents are likely going to take up next to no space. (I have about 5GiB of documents because I hoard PDFs of papers for research purposes when I really should have saved the BibTeX reference—which I'll have to get anyway.) So perhaps the question to ask yourself is, do you really care about that stuff all that much?

What about email? In that regard, I'm possibly even weirder because I intentionally delete old email (with no backup) every few years. I don't look at old mail. If it's important, I save it elsewhere. When I closed my Google account and deleted all the stuff in Gmail, I realized I forgot to sync it. There was a feeling of regret until I realized that I never looked at it. I've lost email before, too, and it's never been a problem. In fact, I'm due to delete things so I'll probably do that today.

It feels like there's this belief floating around that we have to save all these things. I contend that, for the most part, we don't. That's why I have no interest in using cloud services to save all these things. If you don't look at it, why should you give someone else the chance to do so?

-- Geoff (