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If the following describes you:
  • You're always told to backup your files, but you never do.
  • Once upon a time your computer crashed, and you lost a little data, but it's OK, it was no biggie.
  • Your life lays somewhere between sector 63 and sector 66043214 of your hard disk.
…then you are heading for total disaster.

Trust me, I've been there. I had just reinstalled Windows XP since the computer had been getting quite slow. I stored everything on my separate drive. Every document since 6th grade. All my saved emails. A log of every IM conversation I'd had for two years. All my pictures. Everything. One day, I opened the damn thing up to put in a video card. When I turned it back on, Windows claimed the D drive was not formatted.

Now, this would be no biggie. I would have been able to use standard data recovery tools, except for one little problem. All my files were encrypted using the Windows Encrypting File System. So when I recoverd them they were just a bunch of scrambled and seemingly random characters.

At first I was in denial. I restarted the computer, several times, thinking the drive would somehow magically come back. I opened it up twice to check that everything was plugged in right. Nothing worked. Then the truth began to sink in, and I just couldn't stand to be near a computer anymore. This went on for a few hours.

Fortunately, I had most of my important emails still on my mail server. I also had a backup from about two months prior. This might seem like a long time, but it was summer, and I was in high school, so there wasn't anything really important that was not saved, with the exception of updated financial documents for my business (most of which could be recreated using data from PayPal).

So, what can we learn from this?

After I had come out of shock and received some emotional support from friends, I was able to deal with reality. That's when I realized I was actually, in a way, quite lucky that this happened to me when I was young. Because I knew that from then on I would backup all my documents very routinely. I felt sorry for all the people out there who do not know the necessity to backup their files and are accountable when important files are deleted.

Always backup your files at least once a week.

It might seem like a waste of time, but believe me, it's not. I had to lose the computer version of my life before I realized this. It's not a question of whether you will experience a massive, unrecoverable hard drive failure. It's a question of when. And when that failure happens, and when lots of other tiny failures happend along the way, you're going to be very, very happy that you backed up your files.

I think backing up files is something people do not do for three reasons. The first reason is that most people do not have the slightest idea how to backup their files. If this is you, probably all of your documents will fit onto one (or a maximum of two) CDs. Invest in a CD burner and a pack of CD-RW discs. To backup your files, simply copy all your entire documents folder onto the CD-RW. Since CD-RW's are rewritable, you should be able to use the same CD-RW for some time. If all of your documents are helter-skelter around your computer instead of in one folder, you should put them all in one folder. If you do know how to backup your files, you probably have more files, and you probably have better backup techniques.

The second reason people do not backup their files is not something anyone can truly cure. It's because people do not usually see the point of doing things that do not have instant rewards. "What? You want me to backup my documents? And it's going to take about an hour every time? And you want me to do it every week? And you can't even tell me if or when my drive will crash? You're crazy!"

The third reason is that most people do not see the need to backup their files. Most people have never experienced a catastrophic hard drive failure. Or if they have, they haven't had much on their computer. But as we start to rely more and more upon computers, people will how much more it hurts when their hard drives crash. And hopefully, people will begin to understand why they need to backup their files.

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