Fragile Digital Reality

A Fragile Digital Reality

Let me first start off by painting you a picture of a fictitious scenario that is all too real:

It’s a late night on the computer. The severe thunderstorm you’ve been anticipating all evening has finally knocked on your front door and wants to party. You know you should probably shutdown your computer and call it a night, but it has been months since you have been this productive; you decide to continue what you’re doing. Several hours later and that thunderstorm is still hanging around; he actually invited hail, high speed winds, and that tree in your backyard to come crash your place. A quick burst of light from outside your windows fills your room; simultaneously you turn around and take off your headphones when you’re blasted by thunderous decibels. The power goes out. By instinct you find yourself fleeing towards your bed to dig underneath the covers. The comfort puts you to sleep peacefully. The next morning the bright sunlight awakes you; it’s a beautiful day outside but your first move is to go turn-on your computer … “No bootable device — insert boot disk and press any key” … It looks like that thunderstorm and his friends not only crashed your house, but they also crashed your hard-drive.

Like I said, this was a fictitious scenario, but the archetype of data-loss is all too real.

I have been messing around with computers since early adolescence. Throughout the years you start to collect digital data, i.e. you start to slowly digitize your life by scanning old photos, doing your accounting on your computer, creating home movies with Windows Movie Maker (had to start somewhere), bookmarking those essential websites you think you’ll need later… I think you get the idea, but the problem we start to run into is how you manage all this accumulated data. In the 12 years that I have had my own personal computer, I’m currently operating my 5th machine. Between each computer leap, there’s the need for data transfer (especially during the moves between a desktop and a laptop computer). Most everyone knows the pain of moving from one house to another… hopping computers can be either painful or painless – it all depends on how well you pack.

From personal experience, I have lost a lot of data between computer transitions. Tip: Do your best when organizing your data; create relevant folder structures and actually put files into them; Aristotelian categorical thinking.

All of this previous text is leading me to where the real story begins, and that’s of the external hard-drive. The external hard-drive is a great piece of equipment that allows easy access to large amounts of potential data — which can also be portable. This means there exists a little box which you can connect to your computer and be used to back-up all your digital files to; such a little box that it even fits into your pocket. The concept of the external hard-drive starts to give us answers to a few of our previous dilemmas; data transfers and back-up systems. While external hard-drives are wonderful to have and use, I want to share with you the real story behind why I’m writing this post. I lost my digital existence… everything that I had ever been able to save over the 12 years has disappeared. Poof… Gone.

Let me be frank – I’m exaggerating a little bit, because I think I know how I’ll be able to recover all my files… but continue along with this thought experiment. I was massively reorganizing my room the other day. After replacing everything onto my desk, and hooking up my computer, I had found that the USB-port on my external hard-drive had broken off. I wasn’t too bummed about this because I knew I could open the external closure to the drive and plug it into my desktop computer. So I did, and my computer recognized the hard-drive, but it said it was RAW… meaning it couldn’t find anything on it. At this point my eyebrows start to stand-up. I thought to myself this was kind-of-odd, but I played around with the idea “… Well, I could just run a program to recover my hard-drive’s partition.” And so I did… 2 days later, and after several different recovery programs, I manage to figure out that the hard-drive still has the data on it, but I can’t read any of it… Shit, all my files are encrypted; my computer can’t read them like I can’t read Mandarin Chinese. At this point I’m getting a little nervous that I might have lost everything. This couldn’t be though… I couldn’t let this happen. How would I be able to tell my friends that I lost our whole collection of Python Boys footage from our childhood and expect to live? All of my photos… my movies, music, databases, documents, bookmarks, downloads… A part of me (the Minimalism that still lingers in me) was saying that it would be okay – things happen. But a louder voice was yelling quite the opposite. It turns out the drive-controller that connects the hard-drive to the USB-port to create what is the external hard-drive, itself encrypts the data. Fortunately I think I’m able to purchase another one on e-Bay and be able to hook-it together to access my data.

What if I couldn’t order another similar piece? How much would you be willing to spend to have that encryption broken? How much is your past worth?

Do you realize how fragile our digital realities are? Either by a party boy thunderstorm, a broken USB-port, or by numerous other scenarios… this archetype of data-loss is a real concern, but it’s also evolving. Is there a chance that someday we may lose ourselves as a whole? I mean, isn’t that the direction which we’re going – to the ability of uploading our consciousness to “the cloud” (think of the cloud as a series of tubes (the Internet) that connects to an array of on-demand computers. It gets a little tricky because there are multiple clouds… not just one. In essence, the cloud is the idea of using the Internet to access computers for computing purposes.) What if we lose our connection to the cloud; what if we lose access? What if the cloud disappears into a sunny blue sky? What if we lose all control over our ability to survive and exist as the human race? What if we played the role of God and brought about our own destruction? This thought has escalated quickly.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that make sure you have a good back-up system/plan, because you never know when things will crash 😉

One thought on “A Fragile Digital Reality

  1. Update: The piece I needed came in the mail. Unfortunately the partition was still lost, but I am able to actually recover the files. 1TB of data almost recovered.

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