There’s No Backup System for Life

Posted on June 26, 2015 by Robert Ringer


Have you ever given serious thought to just how ephemeral life is? I was reminded of this yet again last week when an important file — containing hundreds of documents and graphics — disappeared from my computer. Poof! Just like that, years of work vanished.

Since Neolithic times — i.e., the era when floppy disks were considered hi-tech — I’ve been obsessed with backing up my computer. I had a super-organized system of floppies in those days, with each disk containing different groups of files.

Finally, I evolved into tape backups (Ugh!) … then CDs … then zip disks … and so on, until I finally started using an external backup drive. At first, I backed up manually. Then, I progressed to Cobian, which backs up my entire computer every night while I’m sleeping.

But after a time, it occurred to me that if my external drive was ever destroyed … or stolen … or simply damaged beyond repair, my backup files would disappear as well.

So, in addition to my external drive, I added an offsite service (Carbonite) that backs up my computer every night to a server located somewhere between my office and the moon. But Carbonite isn’t perfect by a long shot.

For example, if you accidentally delete a file from your computer (Who hasn’t?), Carbonite only keeps it for thirty days — and, yes, my file apparently missed the Cobian thirty-day cutoff. This is a glaring shortcoming that the company should address.

So when my important file disappeared last week, it was like losing a finger — gone forever, I lamented. Fortunately, however, as another layer of protection, I periodically back up my computer manually to my external hard drive and date the backed-up file. Some users might call it compulsive. I call it not trusting myself.

As a result, I was able to go back to a January 2015 manual backup of my computer and restore the file. I was lucky, but, even so, I can’t be sure if I added or deleted anything from the file over the past six months. In any event, I at least have the file as it existed six months ago.

All this got me thinking about the unthinkable: There’s no such thing as a 100 percent failsafe method when it comes to protecting your digital data. Everything in life is a tradeoff, so when you make the decision to digitize most of your business and personal life (a lifetime project that I finally began in earnest about six months ago), the tradeoff is that if one or more of your digital files should disappear, there’s no hard copy to fall back on as a last resort.

On the other side of the coin, of course, is that hard copies can be stolen or destroyed by fire, flood, or other natural disasters. Which is why, in this day and age, digitizing most documents is a necessity.

Just know that no amount of digitizing and no backup system are foolproof. That said, I find it amazing that very few businesspeople — or even techies — seem to give digital Armageddon a thought.

What could destroy all your files, both in your computer and on backup servers? For starters, how about terrorists taking down the entire power grid? That’s something that is probably a likelihood rather than a possibility. And who can say for certain that the average person’s data will survive even if the grid is eventually up and running again?

Or how about those nasty hackers who are plying their nefarious skills in Russia, China, and other parts of the world? Or nuclear war? Or perhaps a monster solar flare that could zap everything in an instant? (Of course, a flare of that magnitude might also take you and me out, in which case losing our data would be a moot point.)

What about the Cloud, you ask? Good question, and here’s the answer: The Cloud is a fantasy created by marketing minds. It’s nice to be able to grab any file you want from anywhere in the world, but — sorry to break it to you — the Cloud is nothing more than a marketing term for giant servers. Some of the things I mentioned above could totally destroy them.

Finally, here’s one I’ll bet you never thought about: What if Microsoft so drastically changes its operating system sometime in the future that you can no longer upgrade your files? Sure, there have always been ways to convert old files to new operating systems, but what if the administrative types at Microsoft screw things up and unintended consequences put us all back in the Dark Ages?

The truth is that there is no foolproof method for guaranteeing that your files are 100% safe. Digitizing your office is a monumental project that can take years and endless man hours to accomplish, assuming it’s done properly.

But, even so, it’s worth it. Entire file cabinets can be emptied and disposed of, with their most important contents taking up virtually no space inside your computer or on a backup server.

Just don’t get lulled into the Normalcy Bias Trap (underestimating the possibility and extent of a disaster) and believe that you have nothing to worry about. Your best bet is to do a manual backup once every week or two, then take the backup with you when you leave your office or home.

It’s not a 100 percent solution, but it’s the closest thing to it that I’ve been able to come up with. And, remember, that’s on top of backing up to an external drive on your desk and an offsite backup service.

Now, let’s set aside computer catastrophes and extend this same line of thinking to other aspects of life. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the truth is that there are no guarantees in any area of life.

You can exercise seven days a week, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your physiological “data” — heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc. (Think Jim Fixx.) You can eat fruits and vegetables till they’re coming out your ears — and never eat a hamburger, hot dog, or slice of pizza — and still lose your physiological data. (Think Nathan Pritikin.)

And in addition to body parts unexpectedly wearing out, there are outside forces such as automobile accidents, natural disasters, sociopathic killers, war, and diseases that are ready and willing to screw up your best-laid ”backup” plans. Most people have had one or more of these culprits take out friends or family members at one time or another, so I needn’t belabor the point.

The takeaway from all this is that my losing that important file last week was a reminder that nothing about life is permanent. Which is why being born is the biggest risk you will ever take.

On that happy note, let me close by saying that there’s a fine line between caution and paranoia, and I believe the only strategy that makes sense is moderation. Experience has convinced me that it really is the best policy. By all means, enjoy life, but always be on the alert for a bad surprise coming around the next corner. Never — ever — fall victim to the Normalcy Bias Trap.

As Katharine Hepburn once put it, “Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” How right she was. Unfortunately, there’s no system for backing up your life.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

23 responses to “There’s No Backup System for Life”

  1. Joseph K Brady-Amoon says:

    Thank you. Life is grand! Developing higher consciousness consistent with enjoying the good things of this world.

    • Teri says:

      So true. And as a person of faith, you have to believe if you lose something you cherish, it will be replaced by something just as good.

  2. Patricia Gaines says:

    Brilliant article. Thank you. Yes, Developing higher conscious awareness to enhance enjoyment with life is not only a good thing, but a wise thing.

  3. Nick Lucko says:

    Mr. Ringer, I have had a "My Book" from Western Digital with 232 gigs as my backup; saving everything important, for several years – no need for any 'services' beyond that.

    • J.Guest says:

      Even that will crash at a most important time. You should keep a second backup in a different room, or a different house or office.

    • D. Guest says:

      There is a larger view Nick. Your physical location can burn down, earthquake (a business I know lost all their computers when the roof top AC units leaked water in the Northridge '94 quake), tornado — you get the point. There are also regional events that can destroy or make temporarily unavailable your info. My doctor uses a service, my medical files are backed up in Georgia, I live in the Seattle area. Next time our region looses power for any length of time, my doctor can still prescribe my medications from the GA backup.

  4. Carol says:

    I published a book a few years back titled "All Kinds of Heroes" about the power grid going down all over North America. It was, of course, a work of fiction…but it emphasized what might take place in such an eventuality. The book is still available on Amazon for anyone interested in reading it.

  5. MArk Preston says:

    Incredibly cheap, Amazon Glacier does not charge until you retrieve your data.

  6. sixxfingers says:

    Microsoft? Throw that junk PC away and buy a Mac! Yes, they're more expensive but FAR SUPERIOR to the windows format. And you can back them up the same as a PC. Maybe the best thing about owning a Mac is being able to give bill gates the digital finger every time I use it. Very satisfying indeed. (Not because of his massive wealth, but because as libertarian I do my best to deny liberals my support in any way.)

    • Grissette says:

      Hate to pop your balloon, but Bill Gates is a major stockholder in Apple, and has been for well over a decaade. He makes oodles of money everytime you do anything Mac/Apple/Pixar.

      Speaking of Pixar, this whole article reads like it was written by the character 'FEAR' from the movie 'Inside Out' – terrorists and hackers from China and Russia … Really!? Geez, how much fun it must be to live inside your head, worrying and planning on making backups of the backups for the backups of those backup backups that you've backed up.

  7. Reality Seeker says:

    "digital Armageddon"

    The actuarial scientist in me loves it when you talk "Armageddon".

    My the way, did you forget to store your "backups" in a Faraday cage? I keep my backup computers, digital library, extra parts along with many other sensitive equipment ensconced in one. Solar flares and EMPs have a nasty way frying electronics like a grasshopper on a griddle.

    "You can exercise seven days a week, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your physiological “data'".

    True, but a piss poor diet almost always results in big health problems. Just take one look at all of the fat-asses in America.

    Remember Jack LaLanne?

    "1984 (age 70) – handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents, he towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests, from the Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 mile" ~ Wikipedia

    Jack's good health and long, meaningful life was no accident. Neither is mine. Nobody's health is. All else being equal, health isn't about luck. "Good genes" play a minimal role, what you eat and how and where you live play a major role…

    "The best laid plans" include plan B, C…… and an exit strategy. Mice and most men neither have a meaningful, long-term plan nor a "backup"……….

    Speaking of "Armageddon". The one to really watch for is the Bond Armageddon. The best laid plans of governments ( borrow, tax and spend) are going to be laid waste; and the ingenuous pubic doesn't have a "backup plan" for when governments and government checks fail.. The peripheral nations are going to implode first. When you see major sovereign nations like France, Japan and the big one ( China) enter into crisis, you'll then know the U.S. it getting close to its day of reckoning.

    There is no backup system when a super power crashes and burns. Dark Age is the backup plan, unless a reboot somehow takes place.

  8. texas wolfie says:

    Wow, you guys are talking high tech, and here I am knee deep in my old spiral notebooks.No worries about a "crash" here!

  9. Paul Herring says:

    Your comments are always interesting, Robert. We live in a world where security is disappearing, technologically and personally, and it seems likely only to get worse. How sad! We humans have been given the capacity to live a rich life, but imperfection gets in the way.

    I've referred to the Bible a few times here. To many that might make me a religious fanatic or a crackpot. But in response I say it's the only Book which gives a feasible answer as to why things are as they are. On the subject here, the Bible refers to an unseen force behind even the most benign of governments. This effectively guarantees that under the present system humans will never be able to govern themselves to the mutual benefit of us all.

  10. My tentative belief: when we wake up and find ourself "dead" (from the physical world) we will understand that we don't or didn't need back-up. Or, if it can be believed, there is Eternal Storage call the Akashic Records. At some point, we will all come to "know" if the above is true… or not.

  11. No matter how careful we are, RISK is a constant.

  12. Tim says:

    Congratulations, Robert, a complete article and you didn't blame the government once !!

  13. John H says:

    My goal is to live long and die fast. Attitude, diet and exercise will help with that, but not guarantee it.

    One can choose to be pessimistic to each other.

    Great column Robert

    John H

  14. John H says:

    One can choose to be pessimistic or optimistic. I choose optimism and avoid complainers like the plague.

    John H

  15. Shankar says:

    Not very sure of high level we always see in Mr. Ringer's articles. Uncertainty will be there however well the activities are planned. Because a chain smoker, does not get cancer even till 80 years of age, we just can not conclude, that smoking is good. It is not always the end result matters. He/she would have suffered with minor inconvenient situations and ailments many times in their life. which might be just because of smoking. So also there is no point in worrying about the cancer or feeling depressed because of the fact that people with good and healthy habits also might get.
    I think simply have good habits and follow them. Have fun and satisfaction of being good. Also be ready for something that might surprise you with a hard blow. HOW? be ready to get up as quickly as possible.
    God bless

  16. @drewallstar says:

    Every 3-4 months, please (1) review the list of what's being backed up, in case you added a new folder, and (2) test the restore of a few files from the backup.

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