Friday, October 17, 2008

The danger of not writing on paper

From childhood until early adulthood, everything I wrote was on paper. Journals, poems, love letters unsent—I kept them all in boxes and file folders, and managed to take them back and forth across the country, even though my means of transportation was bicycle, bus or plane and I lived in a series of small, rented rooms where storage space was at a minimum.

In the last couple of decades I've written almost everything on the computer and, despite living in houses with attics and closets, I haven't bothered to print most of it out. Except for letters printed once and sent off, and stories printed for submissions, the rest of it sat on a hard drive somewhere. I assumed it would always be accessible if I backed it up.

An article I read in a writer's magazine a couple of years ago warned that writers shouldn't assume their hard drives won't crash or their houses won't burn and suggested the best and cheapest means of backup would be to create an email account just for the archiving of writing. First draft, you send an email to that special account, final draft, another email, with draft status noted in the subject line.

Easy enough, I created a "beblevinsarchive" account on Yahoo and have been sending copies of my pieces to it ever since. Until yesterday, when the email bounced back with the message: "This account has been disabled or discontinued."

I checked online and got this explanation:

Your Yahoo! Mail account is no longer active.
Why is my account inactive?
Yahoo! Mail deactivated your mail account because:
• You have not logged into your mail account during the past four months

It also said "All email messages, folders, attachments and preferences have been deleted and cannot be recovered."

So, just sending messages to a Yahoo email account is not enough to keep it active. I don't even remember what I sent to the account, so some of it may be gone forever.

OK, I'll just back my writing up on some kind of external storage medium. But here's what gives me pause: I have an article I wrote years ago for a graduate journalism class, which I'd like to find again since it included an interview with Sy Syfransky, publisher of The Sun. I can't find a paper copy of it; the only copy I seem to have of it is on a floppy disk—a five-inch floppy disk which I no longer have any means of accessing.

Even if I manage to transfer that disk (via a company that does such things) to a three-inch floppy disk or a flashdrive, I wonder now how long it will be before they are outdated and equally hard to access.

Today I created an "Archive" folder on an Internet email account I check on a regular basis, to which I can send copies of my writing for storage. But I'm also going to get some boxes ready, restock the printer with ink and paper, and get ready to churn out "hard copies" of things I've written in the last decade. Maybe some of it wasn't worth saving anyway, but I'd like to be the one to make that choice, not a machine.

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