In the ‘olden days’, my grandparents went on vacation with a camera and several rolls of film. When they got back, there was the excitement of waiting for the film to be developed so they they could see how well (or badly) the pictures came out. The best shots went into an album and then the album went on a shelf where it could be viewed at any time. As the keeper of family memorabilia, I now have many of my grandparents albums that even 50 or 60 years later are still able to be easily viewed.
Let’s compare this with what happens today. You go on vacation and take 500 pictures with your smart phone. Maybe you subscribe to an online cloud service like Apple iCloud so the pictures get safely and securely stored. You can view them on your phone at any time and send pictures to family and friends and post them to social media.
From the description of how things happen today, you might say that we have come so far and progressed so much. I say that it’s half correct. With these easy to use tools for capturing, storing and sharing, we have the ability to have quick access to our memories. But what happens in 50 years from now, will your children and grandchildren be able to view these pictures or even know how to access them? If I take care of photo albums, they could last for several generations.
Now, let’s not forget that paper based prints don’t last forever. In time, there are acids and other chemicals at work that slowly disintegrate these precious memories. The real question to ask is this – how can we take the benefits of both ‘old fashioned’ printed photo albums with the convenience and ready access of modern digital assets? There are several things to consider:
If my digital files are organized then I have a better chance of finding what I’m looking for – be it now or in 20 years
If I determine what is important to me then I can revisit how I’m protecting it over time, not when something goes wrong
The reality is there isn’t a one size fits all approach to protecting your digital files for the future. From my experience, working with clients to determine what approach to take is the best way to determine a solution.
A solution that combines multiple safe secure storage methods plus easy access to digital files is one that will be useful for a period of time – but then it must be re-evaluated. Just as early photos used a process called Daguerrotype that eventually changed to modern photo development, so does a digital process change over time.
A long time ago, when photography was only paper based, pictures were put in albums so that they would be protected and preserved for future generations. My grandparents labeled pictures and created albums, some of which are still in existence today. When you are doing your taxes, you keep at least 7 years worth of paperwork in case the government wants to give your tax return a second glance. University students who are writing a thesis might work on the document for several years and keep lots of research in the form of books, articles and notes. What do all of these items have in common? All are important items that have value for the owner and need to be protected and preserved – sometimes for different periods of time. This is known in the data protection business as retention. Retention is the amount of time that a document or item is to be saved. Let’s look at the types of items that we retain in more detail.
When you took that picture of your kid’s dance recital last week, did you think about how you would find it and look at it in 20 years? We live in at time where we are taking more pictures than ever before. This is thanks to the development of cameras in mobile phones – and the fact that these phones are always with us. Phones have a limited capacity, so one option that has become popular and easy, is to use a cloud based service like Apple’s iCloud or Google Photos to keep a growing picture collection. That is a great solution as long as these services continue to exist but what happens in 20 years if one of them either goes out of business or changes their business model to eliminate the storage of photos? While this seems unlikely for Apple and Google based on their business today, we cannot assume that anything is forever.
Tax, financial and other documents
Lots of financial documents and statements are easily available online and can be downloaded to your computer as a PDF file. With the help of a scanner, all of these scattered bits of paper can be digitally stored together to provide a quick reference to financial statements or to bring together all documents required for tax season. It’s easy to store these files on your computer but what happens if your computer crashes? Try explaining to the tax department that you lost 10 years of data when your hard drive crashed. I don’t think that will excuse you from paying your taxes! Now, it’s possible that you don’t need to keep every document forever but copies of ownership for properties or life insurance policies need to be kept long term. Before determining a data retention strategy for your documents, you need to first categorize them based on how long they need to be kept in order to ensure that the right documents are kept for the right amount of time.
Retention of school assignments and short term projects
These types of documents are very important but possibly for a shorter period of time. A student in high school working on a project might need the materials and final document for only the current school year or possibly until they graduate. Once the high school diploma is in hand, these items might be kept for sentimental reasons but they no longer have the same critical value. The same can be said for a 6 month work project. The raw materials to work on the report may or may not be important but the final document could be critical and may need to be retained longer term. The key point to take away for these types of documents is that they need to be protected during a shorter period of time, but during that time they are very important. In the case of a school project or PhD thesis, versions along the way have great value. Can you imagine working on the final draft of your thesis and then losing the file, only to discover that the one backup came from the first week you were working on it?
All of the above items are important digital data that must be protected – and all for different lengths of time, or as we said earlier, all have different retention times. Prioritizing your data allows the right protection method for each data type.