The best advice I can give anyone using a computer is that you should back up your computer often, especially  if you are storing anything important on it.  If you think someone else is backing it up, you may be wrong — and you might not find out until it is too late.  I remembered that lesson harshly today.

I also have a “smart phone” (one which can get email as well as do a number of other functions).  This phone synchronizes with my office email, contacts and calendar.  In an ideal world, this means that I always have all of my information available wherever I am.  Normally it works beautifully.  I can make changes in my calendar on my phone, and it automatically appears on my computer.  Similarly, I can add a contact on my computer, and it adds it to my phone automatically.   Theoretically, these are all backed up at work AND by my phone provider.  Imagine my surprise this morning when I tried to find a contact and learned that they were all gone! I checked my calendar on my computer and it appeared as though all of my appointments were there, but the color coding of entries (which helps me remember why I am at a meeting) was all gone.  Since I depend on my email, calendar and contact list, this information knocked the wind from my sails.  But, I knew I had backups.  So, I called the phone provider, and we could not get the backups working.  I called my work and they have provided my backups, except that there are two sets of contacts and two calendars and my phone is still synching with the blank ones.  In other words, as long as I am tied to my computer I am fine, but if I must get away from it, I have virtually no information.

I am sure that ultimately this will all be fixed and I will be fine.  As an IT professional, I had thoughts of how else I should have backed up the information.  Someone suggested printing it all out.  However, I have over 1,000 contacts, and that seemed like an excessive amount of work — even without considering the calendar!  It turns out that if you are using Microsoft’s outlook, there is a handy little feature that allows you to export your contacts to an excel spreadsheet (I didn’t look, but it probably also allows you to import from that spreadsheet too).  Of course, I immediately did that so I would be sure to have something left if the problem got worse.

This puts me in a better position, but I should not be done there.  After I get the spreadsheet, I need to back up my hard drive.  That way if my computer also crashes (it was a very bad day), I still have a copy of my phone directory.

Let’s think about you now.  While it would be quite aggravating to have to re-create my calendar and my contacts, it could be done (further, it would probably encourage me to clean out some old information that I no longer need!).  But, what if that information included photos of a grandchild, or a recording of voices of a relative who has passed on, or scans of handwritten poetry from your great grandmother?  Those things cannot be recreated no matter how hard you try.  If you do not have them backed up, you have simply lost them.

Computers are terrific tools.  But, like any tool, they need to be maintained properly.  Furthermore, like any tool, they can break.  Problems with viruses or worms, power spikes, sudden violence, and maybe even software that is poorly written can cause your computer to break.  It is frustrating enough when the tool breaks.  Don’t make it devastating by losing something important.

There are multiple ways to back up your computer.  You can, of course, copy important files onto CDs or DVDs and keep those in a safe place.  That can be a lot of work, and CDs have a tendency to get lost.  Another solution is to purchase an external hard drive and copy your documents to the hard drive regularly.  As long as you do it regularly, that approach will work.

Other people prefer to keep either their original work or a copy of their work “in the cloud.”  Many sites that print photos or allow you to search genealogy also allow you to store your information there.  The advantage of those sites is that your information is backed up and maintained without your intervention.  Some people like to have their information stored at a place they can find it, like dropbox.com.  Again, the site has the advantage of being backed up.  However, a generic site like dropbox will allow you to keep all of your copies in one place.  Whether you should back up your information to an external drive or to the cloud depends on how much control and activity you want to have in the process.

Just be sure you back up those data.  Paraphrasing my hometown’s attitude toward voting, “Back up EARLY, Back up OFTEN!”

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