Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Protecting Precious Memories

This week started with our family in DC visiting monuments and museums, bonding over outrageously over-priced government-approved cafeteria food and taking long walks across the National Mall.

We took hundreds of photographs on our new fancy camera -- after all, it can hold 2,500 hi-res images. Pictures of pandas at the National Zoo, Kermit the Frog at the Museum of American History, and my Lovely Wife's excursion to the Tidal Basin complete with a ride on a rented pedal boat.

Upon returning home, one of the first things I did was to download all those new memories to our iMac. They downloaded as they normally do and I deleted them from the camera, as I also normally do. By the following morning, however, our normally reliable iMac was taking thirty minutes to boot up and a further twenty minutes to display any icons. Sitting there, starting to sweat at the thought of the computer crashing, I swear I heard a single church bell ring in the distance.

A Sunday trip to the Apple Store in Durham turned into a day-long exercise in waiting as one of the resident Geniuses backed up our data to a newly-purchased external drive and then reformatted our hard drive, wiping it clean and reinstalling the operating system. Eight hours after leaving for Durham, we returned home and I plugged in the reconstituted iMac.

It didn't start. It sat there, glowing at me, refusing to boot. Only a small gray apple appeared on the screen as if to mock us for our efforts.

Oh well, at least we have the data backed up, I thought. Unfortunately, when connected to our laptop, the external drive whirred and chirped like a cricket on crack and also defiantly refused to boot. That single distant church bell became a full funerary march. No longer sweating for fear of having to purchase a new computer, I was now coming undone emotionally at the thought of having lost the nine years of photographs that had been stored on the iMac.

I could care less about Word documents or Excel files or music and movies purchased through iTunes. It might be problematic but I can always recreate files and re-purchase media. But how do you replace photographs? I imagine I felt like people who have lost their personal belongings in a house fire. My mind raced through the catalog of 12,000-plus images as though it might help me recall them later.

In the end, the external drive had backed up everything properly, it's just that our older laptop didn't have the right USB ports to support the peripheral device. Back at the Apple Store in Durham the very next daty we confirmed the data existed, I bought a new computer, and the very first thing I did when I got home was to ensure the photographs made it onto the new machine. They now reside on two separate hard drives and I will religiously back up new pictures on a regular basis.

The fear of possibly losing all those precious memories got me thinking. Being a fan of crunching numbers, I assessed what the loss of those 12,000 images might have meant to our family.

Gathered over the course of nine years, those pictures represent roughly 21% of my life in pictures. They are 58% of our married life, 72% of our daughter's life, and 100% of our sons' lives. Imagine the thought of losing the entire photographic history of your life due to a parent who didn't properly back up the computer and a faulty back up drive purchased as a Hail Mary effort to catch everything before it disintegrates into digital oblivion.

Call me a wuss or a wimp or whatever you like but I can tell you that a tear rolled down my cheek when I finally restored all the photographs. I was so ecstatic I couldn't even sit at the computer. I literally skipped down the hallway like a giddy child, and I am pretty sure that I shouted "Whoopee!" just like they do in those old black and white movies.

Even more than learning a lesson about backing up my hard drive, I learned that nothing makes you appreciate your family more than the simple act of casting your mind back through time to recall precious moments you took for granted were safely filed away for future perusal. As much as I cherish all the pictures we saved this weekend, they are just static glimpses --reminders of the moments -- and the memories they help call to mind are the real treasures.


  1. just imagine never even having had the opportunity to record all those images, much less backing them up on a what ? then you might appreciate how it was back in the "day" where all us old fogies were born and grew up ! We have only the memories in our mind and some old blk & white kodaks to soothe us on our way down the razor slide of old age. well written as usual...Bob buckley..

  2. Thanks, Bob. I won't be making that mistake again.