The Peculiar Pain of Data Loss

It’s such a hackneyed, common story it seems hardly worth telling. Except, despite it’s commonness, I still let it happen to me. So maybe it is worth something. 

I am a digital child living in a digital age, but before suffering hard drive death I didn’t truly appreciate to what extent. I hadn’t realized that, more than any physical possession I own (particularly since my engagement / wedding ring was snatched at a Korean sauna), my most valuable belongings are digital. I was both unaware of just how important my data was to me, and naively complacent about how vulnerable it was. 

You see, I wasn’t a complete idiot. I had back-ups, failsafes. I had an external hard drive, and when it died I didn’t run immediately to replace it because I believed that all of my most important files were safe in my dropbox (spoiler alert: due to sloppy digital housekeeping, this turned out to be very much not the case). Even when my MacBook failed to turn on, I didn’t jump immediately into full-blown panic mode. I knew that data recovery was a thing—an expensive thing, certainly, but if CSI teams can resurrect data from bullet-riddled hard drives, surely the information on my perfectly intact computer could be salvaged.

Well, it couldn’t. I explored every possible option, and it was all just…gone. The realization was like a punch to the gut. 

As a professional, this was a blow. I had believed that the Scrivener file containing all of my completed books and my current WIP was in Dropbox, but somehow it wasn’t—it seems I at some point made a duplicate. An older version of the file was there, but it was missing almost 70,000 words. I found a more complete version on my iPad—not everything, but a solid chunk of my WIP—but do to some inexplicable wonky-ness, when I transferred the file from iPad to Dropbox it got garbled, and every single scene—most with titles stripped—ended up, scrambled, in several folders labeled “recovery” and “conflict.” I had to spend my first days as a full-time author piecing together 275,000 words worth of story, putting the scenes back into order like assembling a puzzle. And that was before I could even begin the gut-wrenching task of writing again scenes I had already written. Of reformatting books I had already formatted. I still haven’t started anew painting the third book’s cover, because honestly the notion depresses the hell out of me.

And that is just the toll on me as an author. The personal is in many ways much worse. I took a (likely self-indulgent) trip of discovery to Vietnam, where I found the place that my uncle—one of my very favorite people, to whom I dedicated my first book—had served during the war, the place where he had experienced incomprehensible suffering. I did it for myself, mostly—an attempt at feeling closer to a person no longer with me. But I also did it for my family. I wanted to share with them the pictures, so they could see just how changed the country is since the war. But I never got around to sending those pictures, and they too are gone. As are many of my photos from The Great Wall of China, from my years in Korea, pictures with friends taken in moments that will never come again.

It’s bizarre, how much emotional weight these things carry, given that they are intangible. It’s embarrassing to have cried over a dead hard drive—but perhaps not quite so embarrassing as the fact that I, in this day in age, allowed this to happen. I am amazed, now, at my faith in such fallible measures.

It took me a long time to write this post—and therefore to update my blog at all, since I knew this needed to be done. I didn’t want to admit to my readers, who have already waited for so long, that I’d had to back track. So I waited until I could say—honestly—that this was a horrible, stupid thing that happened, and that I’m past it. And for the most part, this is true. I was able to rewrite the scenes I had lost quite quickly and have written far beyond that point since. With the exception of the darn cover (*teeth gnashing*), I have moved forward. And I did what I should have done long ago: I invested in a cloud-based backup service.

But I’m not completely over it. I’m still grieving a bit. I’m still discovering, now and again, some new thing I hadn’t realized I’d lost—some poem I wrote in college, or a note I’d jotted about a future book. I think about it less as the weeks go by, but I’ll never stop regretting the loss. Which is why I wanted to write this post. If you’ve been thinking about investing in a sounder backup system for your data, please do it. Do it now. Because there is no time machine, and when data—even tremendously important data—is lost, is cannot always be recovered. 

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unsplash-logoPhilipp Katzenberger

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