Why You’re So Terrible at Backing Up Your Data
Like all things that are good for you, backing up stinks
Every few years I have a panic about losing everything, and in a flurry of activity, I buy hard drives, blank DVDs, and subscriptions to cloud storage services. Then, because I am a geek, I concoct incomprehensible command-line scripts to perform backups. I write commands in a jumble of slashes, colons, and letters:
robocopy "D:\" "H:\D" /MIR /FFT /R:3 /W:10 /Z /NP /NDL
Even as I’m writing these, I’m aware that I will have no idea what they do in a day’s time, let alone when I next come to look at them, years later, in a backup-induced panic. And yet, every time, I fall into the trap of thinking that the more complex and impenetrable the backup, the better the backup. This is flagrantly false and doesn’t stand up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny, but still, I feel satisfied with a good day’s backing up, even if I haven’t backed up any actual, you know, data.
The Internet Is Only Permanent When You Don’t Want It to Be
Why everything is online forever. Except when it’s not.
The problem with backing up is that it is work you don’t want to ever use. You hope the effort will be wasted. When we talk of backing up, we refer to “redundant” systems—literally, systems that are superfluous. And usually, when something is superfluous, you try to get rid of it. But to back up something, a redundant copy is not redundant. The very words for describing backups drive us in logical circles.
Backing up is time-consuming. It requires thought, it requires effort, and it requires money. You need to put your backed-up data somewhere, whether that’s a cloud service you pay monthly for or a hard drive that you tuck away somewhere. These things cost.
More than that, backing up is boring. It has a dull, worthy feeling to it—the digital equivalent of eating your vegetables, meditating for an hour, and going to bed at 10. How many of us, really, want to spend time backing up our data? We know we should, but we get no immediate benefit from it. Like all tasks with indeterminate benefits at some point in the…