Backups aren’t just for computers

I’ve written prior posts urging you to have good computer back-ups, and I’ll take this opportunity to do so one more time. Here’s a reminder that fits the Halloween season:

The ghost of future hard drive failure reminds you to back up your data
— Hannah A. Brazeau

But what I mostly want to discuss are two other kinds of backups you may need.

Backups of important paper documents

Some documents you might keep tucked away in a safe deposit box or a home safe, but there are also important papers that you might use regularly and need to keep close at hand. And those papers are susceptible to being lost or damaged.

Author Susan Orlean wrote about the following problem:

Had a small flood in my office. Some handwritten notes are now abstract watercolors. Fortunately I’d typed them up, but yikes.

And then there’s this sad story from Gene Young, who wrote about his Day-Timer:

I accidentally left my little book in my shirt pocket and it got washed and dried but good. My schedules were all in little bitty pieces.

Do you have any similar papers, where losing them would be a significant problem? One way to give yourself a backup for such papers would be to take photos of the important pages or to scan them, perhaps with a scanner app on your smartphone.

Backups for critical technology

Vince Dixon wrote for Eater about a problem that happened last May:

A Square service outage … lasting roughly two hours forced restaurants, coffee shops, and food carts around the country to turn away customers and lose sales, bringing into question whether relying solely on new technology and software to make business transactions is a good idea.

Nate Snell, the owner of one such business, learned his lesson:

He has emergency plans for greasy spills and fires, but was caught off guard by the technical glitch. “I don’t think we realized that the entire Square system nationwide would go down,” Snell says. “I immediately got on Amazon and ordered an old-fashioned [credit card] swiper.”

While this type of contingency planning is critical for businesses, it might also apply beyond the typical business environment.

Do you have any technology you use all the time that could cause a significant problem if it malfunctioned or became unavailable? I rely on my computer and its internet connection for a few things — sometimes a smart phone isn’t enough — and I once lost that connection for a couple days when someone drove into and destroyed a major piece of phone company equipment. Fortunately, my backup plan was as simple as taking my laptop to a local coffee shop — and making regular food and beverage purchases to compensate for using its WiFi. But if I had a desktop computer rather than a laptop, finding a backup solution would have been much harder.

If you rely on a mapping program to provide driving instructions, what would you do if that service went down halfway though your drive? Would you have another way to find your destination?

If you assume any technology might fail at any time, and then plan for working around any significant problems that could cause, you may save yourself some panicked moments in the future.

5 Comments for “Backups aren’t just for computers”

  1. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I keep a cheapie smartphone for backup. Take the battery out, replace & recharge every sixty days. Cheapie tablet with a keyboard can replace most laptop business functions. I keep a cheap uninsured truck with topper just in case: courthouse is two blocks away if I need to register, insure, and possibly live in it. Used to keep a second part-time job but hours and health won’t permit it any more.

    Entropy follows me around like a wet dog with mange.

  2. posted by Sarah on

    A couple of random thoughts on this topic:

    I don’t own a smartphone, and that is a very deliberate decision. I have a basic phone that makes calls and can send/receive texts. I don’t want to be reliant on a smartphone to conduct my life.

    I don’t patronize restaurants that don’t take cash (and there are some where I live, and more popping up every few months). They can choose to be cash-less, and I can choose to take my business elsewhere.

    As for what I’d do without a GPS, i wouldn’t change anything for me: I have NEVER used a GPS; I use a *map* that’s printed out and has been studied ahead of time! With directions written down on paper and a route written out or marked on the map.

    IMO, many people have become so reliant on their phones and other gadgets, that they forget millions of people lived full lives – and in many countries, STILL live full lives! – without any of this electronic stuff.

    I imagine that today’s young people would find it hard to fathom what it was like to be a soldier or other combatant in World War 2 without a cell phone! Or what it’s like to need to make a phone call if you don’t have 25 cents at hand for the corner pay phone.

    I use my computer as much as anyone else does, and it offers a lot of convenience, but I try never to forget that I *could* AND *did* fulfill ALL the functions in my life for many decades before I ever had a computer available to me.

    So basically, I assume any technology could fail at any time, and I avoid that panicked feeling by deliberately NOT relying on electronics to an extent that would leave me at a disadvantage in case of outage. Would I be inconvenienced if I couldn’t print out a PDF file as needed? Yes, I would – but it wouldn’t likely bring my world crashing to a halt.

  3. posted by Janet on

    Thanks for writing my post for me, Sarah!

    It amazes me that people don’t already plan for the possibility of electronic failure at any time. Don’t all the hacking horror stories we hear every day make people think twice about total reliance on electronics? Not to mention that the greatest homeland security threat is not a nuclear bomb but a well placed EMP that takes us back to Little House on the Prairie days.

    I think part if this may be a generational thing. Some of us have never lived without this dependency and can’t imagine it would never be there. And then some of us have lived long enough to know that the unimaginable only stays unimaginable until it happens.

  4. posted by Ms Hanson on

    Thanks to #SkiptheBS for pointing out a backup plan doesn’t require a rant about technology (and BTW, I’m not reading this in traditional print).

    Two instances of ID theft cost me my biz, my home and my health over a dozen years ago. Both involved paper – and cut locks. So I went paperless in 2005, thanks to technology.*
    Today most ID theft occurs due to some megalithic agency getting hacked – you have no control over it, and it matters not one bit if you never touched a keyboard. Your info is out there, as is your parents’ and grandparents’ and brand new babes.

    The article above focussed on two basic concerns: backups of important paper documents, and backups for critical technology.

    In my own case, I have the first topic neatly covered in my blog post here.

    As for the second topic, #SkiptheBS addressed alternate plans very neatly – batteries, spares, extras. Add boots, bottled water & pantry staples, and you’re ready to ride out most storms.

    *How I Got Rid Of 4 Filing Cabinets (& All My Bookcases)

  5. posted by Sarah on

    @Ms. Hanson: I’m sorry if you read my comment as a “rant about technology” b/c I did not intend it to be that at all. My intention was simply to point out that we don’t HAVE to be as dependent on technology as we CHOOSE to be in many cases – and the proof is that we all got through life even before there were personal computers & smartphones available to us.

    Yes, indeed, keep on hand batteries, spares, etc. – but also realize that if, as you say, “most ID theft occurs due to some megalithic agency getting hacked” then that’s all the more reason you won’t see me using my credit or debit card at a cashless restaurant, since the restaurant likely has a far lower level of security than the “megalithic agency” does.

    To my mind, the more I use my credit/debit card to make purchases, the more of a digital trail I’m leaving for someone to track me, and with every such purchase, I have just left myself open to ANOTHER way of having my ID stolen (whether by someone hacking into the restaurant’s or store’s computer system, or by having a rogue employee access my info).

    Bottom line for me is that yes, I back up my computer info to a secondary source, and yes I keep emergency supplies at hand. But I also realize that a situation may arise where NONE of that does me any good, which is why I want to know how to read a map (and not rely on GPS), etc. These are basic “survival skills” if you will – skills which everyone should have. Sadly, the last time there was a 24-hour blackout where I live, what I saw on the streets were tons of people – mostly college-student age – wandering around & staring at their phones, in complete disbelief that this OBJECT upon which they depended for so many functions, was simply not working. I don’t want to be that person!

Comments are closed.