She was in her final year of grad school and was putting the finishing touches on her dissertation when a poorly calculated movement of her arm brought a cup of coffee splashing over her machine. The screen went dark, and it would not power on. In a panic, she raced into our store and by the time she got to me, eyes puffy and wet with tears, she could barely get out the words “Won’t…power…on…” followed by a couple gasping sobs and “My dissertation…” After some consolation I asked her the question I ask everyone looking for service or support: “Do you have a backup?” unfortunately, she did not. No google doc, no emailed copy to herself, no dropbox account…nothing. Luckily we were able to remove the hard drive and she was ultimately able to retrieve the data she needed, but too often in this digital world we live in, people are wandering around with all of their very precious eggs of data in one precarious basket.
“My life is on this machine!”
When you work in customer service, especially with technology, you hear this phrase a lot. People come in, panicked and upset because their device isn’t working like it’s supposed to. When you position that the repair or service will cause data loss, people are flabbergasted. No no, they insist, I need a working device right now, and it needs to be my working device with all of my data. Easy enough to retrieve that data if they have a backup, but more often than not, the response is often a blank stare, a long pause, an occasional “I think so?”…hardly the confidence a tech would need to move forward with potentially wiping a device.
If getting people to back up their computers was challenge enough, there’s the added complexity of throwing mobile devices into the mix. Smartphones have replaced our cameras, our address books, our calendars, and effectively manage our social lives. Not surprisingly, these are the devices that people are the most sensitive about. Recently, a man in London successfully sued Apple for erasing his honeymoon pictures and 15 years’ worth of contacts. In this specific instance the associate failed to ask if he had a backup before wiping his device, so admittedly that’s a problem. However, this highlights my central question- how is it that a device that carries so much sentimental value could not have its data backed up anywhere?
Backups by the Numbers
There have been a number of polls and surveys regarding backup frequency, and the results are equally sobering: most surveys have approximately 25% of respondents claiming that they have never backed up their data. Not once. In any way. When you add in people who back up on a yearly basis, the number is typically pushed up to over 50%. The total number of people who back up daily or weekly is typically 20% or less. Of the people who back up yearly or not at all, you might think the perceived time and effort would be the main deterrent; it’s not. Only 11% of people who don’t back up claimed that the time involved kept them from doing the backup. A whopping 68% claim that they feel “no need” to back up their files. Let’s break that down a bit.
According to a poll published in April of this year, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smart phone. Using the 2014 population of ~315 million people, that means approximately 210.5 million people own a smart phone. Admittedly the poll numbers for backup frequency had a much smaller sample size, so the following calculation might not be entirely scientific, but for the sake of the argument let’s say 25% of these smart phone owners don’t back up their device, ever. So that means 52.6 million people are walking around with smartphones with no backup whatsoever. Furthermore, of those 52.6 million people, utilizing the earlier poll numbers, just under 35.8 million people feel “no need” to back up their phone. Nearly 36 million people walking around with smartphones full of contacts, pictures, calendar events…and no real concern if that data were to up and disappear overnight.
Buckle Up Backup for Safety
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that as a society we need to place more emphasis on making sure our personal data is safe. Backing up your data needs to become the new “buckle up for safety” campaign in order for people to take it seriously. As it is, I believe that people are much more aware of identity theft and the importance of keeping our financial information safe in the era of online shopping. With the advent of Apple Pay, the implementation of chip readers in stores and other efforts to help secure our money, it’s time to turn our attention to educating the public on how easy it is to protect the data that matters most to us.
It used to be that when there was a tragedy like a house fire (granted nobody was hurt or killed), the biggest emotional blow was the loss of photos. An office that experienced a similar tragedy could be devastated by the loss of years of hard work. Now it doesn’t require anything disastrous to inflict the same kind of blow on the average consumer. A breaker could overload and short out their smartphone while it’s charging, a bottle of water could topple over your machine, or maybe the device is stolen or lost altogether. With the ease that you could lose the data that matters so much to you, it’s important to know the resources you have available to protect that data, and take advantage of them.
So now you’re convinced: I need to back up my data. Where do I start? I’m glad you asked!
Not to play favorites here, but since approximately one in three Americans use an iPhone, chances are this will be a relevant solution for you. Apple’s iCloud provides you with 5 GB of free storage to back up your mobile devices, and also back up your photos using the iCloud photo library. Need more storage? They’ve recently adjusted their pricing so you can get 50 GB for just $.99/month. Not sure if you’re backed up? Go to Settings -> iCloud -> Backup, if you have a backup it will show you when your “Last Backup” was. If it says “Never”…well, you know what to do.
One of the most recognized cloud-based backup solutions out there, Dropbox provides an easy to use interface for managing and saving your most important files including documents and photos. With apps for iOS and Android, it also makes it easy to backup pictures from your mobile device.
Another great option for people who want to make sure their documents are safe and sound (I’m looking at you, students), Google Docs not only provides a great backup option, but also full-service word processing, spreadsheet management and presentation software.
Microsoft’s cloud service comes with free storage for Office 365 users, and offers reasonably priced tiers for larger storage capacities.
Outside of web/cloud-based services, it’s also a good idea to have an external hard drive for file management/backup that’s independent of internet connectivity. The Seagate Backup Plus drives are very well reviewed, and with the new USB 3.0 connectivity, backing up large files is faster than ever.
There are numerous other services out there including Flickr, Carbonite and more, but these are some great services to get you started in protecting the information that’s most important to you.
If you already back up your information religiously, good for you! Now I would challenge you to take that practice and share your tips and tricks with those around you. By securing our data and investing in making backups a priority, we can all be taking some essential precautions in saving our digital lives.