AS OUR DIGITAL DEVICES FILL UP year over year, and we change devices long with ever-improving technology, you may find yourself with the digital equivalent of the stacks of papers in boxes and fat photo albums: a dusty pile of thumb drives, external hard drives, or even old laptops (you can’t get rid of because you don’t remember if something important is on it).
Some of you may have tried to consolidate all that technical impedimenta into a desktop hard drive. You bought a big one, maybe a terabyte or so, thinking that would be big enough to hold everything for the foreseeable future. Well, you were right, it’s big enough. The problem is anything you buy ages, gathers dust, parts get corrupted, and it experiences worrying hot flashes. Not even our technology avoids the physical trappings of the aging process.
So now what?
The latest solution to my digital file storage problem was to subscribe to Cloud services. The proliferation of this business has exploded over the last couple of years, and with good reason – it’s easy. Most people have now switched to their fourth or fifth smart phone and dragged all those pictures and videos (and probably lost a few batches) from phone to phone during the dreaded phone upgrade process. The last time you bought a new phone the sales kid probably said, “Just click this button and everything gets backed up to the Cloud.” You probably felt somewhat relieved, but mostly mystified, keeping fingers crossed that you never actually need to find anything in this mysterious floating bucket of documents.
I actually subscribe to several cloud storage services, mostly because the services are priced such that the first couple terabytes are incredibly cheap to lure us in. They know we’ll just keep dumping our digital stuff in there, like an empty basement, while we think, “I’ll organize it when it’s full.”
The problem with that line of thinking is that the Cloud is a magic basement that never gets so full that it blocks your access to the stairs or causes the neighbors to think you’re a hoarder. The Cloud just quietly expands, like our waistlines during the holidays. In a future article I’ll talk about some less painful ways to organize, and even confidently delete, what you have stored digital purgatory.
Today, there are a couple of good choices for Cloud storage. The cheapest storage service by far is an Amazon “S3 bucket.” I pay a little over three dollars a month to store many hours of video footage and thousands of RAW picture files. However, this service was built for IT pros. Even the act of establishing an AWS account takes more understanding of hyper-modern security protocols than breaking in to Nakatomi Plaza. If you happen to live with a computer scientist or IT professional – this is the route to go, with two caveats: You could pay a small fortune if you ever decide you want to move all that stuff somewhere else (Ingest is free. Egress is where they make their money.) Secondly, if your in-home IT guy gets run over by a truck, you may have a heck of a time ever getting access to your files again.
The more expensive (relatively speaking) but far more user-friendly Cloud storage solutions are name brands you’ve probably heard of; Google, Dropbox, Apple Cloud. The best deal is to pay for an annual subscription on any of these services. I pay less than $10 a month for four terabytes on Google’s cloud. It’s easy to get your digital files into and out of these services, and you don’t have to maintain the hardware, security protocols, or upgrade software. However, I will leave you with one parting piece of advice when using any of these services – especially Dropbox. DO NOT download and use their “data-sync” software unless you take the time to read and truly understand the instructions. The reason is, you have to keep an exact copy of everything on your phone or laptop because those services just “mirror” what you have. If you accidentally throw things away, the sync software will immediately do the same thing. If you want to save a bunch of collections (like pictures and videos) in perpetuity, just copy and paste your folders into their services for long term storage, and then delete what you don’t use regularly from your devices. These services promise 99.999% uptime, so you can safely leave your files in the Cloud. And then promise yourself that you’re going to go through it all and organize it someday. I’m sure that will happen.