With 2015 quickly wrapping up, I’ve been thinking a lot about data–particularly video and photo data, but text documents, too. I’ve never been especially good at managing computer data. In the past, both Andy and I have mindlessly dumped our videos and photos onto our computers via bluetooth or cable from our phones, and pretty much left them there without another thought. We rarely looked at them. With the date and tags for each item were always so random (What *is* IMG33722?) and sorted things out of order we mostly forgot about them, content knowing they were “there somewhere” if we ever needed them. Which we rarely did.

But with the Little Guy, I really want a better way to keep track of things for posterity. I have such fond memories of rooting through my parents’ 3″ thick photo albums with my sister, looking at pictures of my parents’ wedding, their move East, my grandparents when they were in their late fifties (They look so young!), my aunt’s 30th birthday, and my sister and I in all baby-toddler-child-teen phases. I love those albums. I still look through them.

But with our digital photos (and the sheer ease of snapping off 30 photos on our phones at any moment for any reason), it’s harder to find a way to collect them in such an easily accessible way. This has particularly struck home now that I’m a parent. With the Little Guy, the sheer amount of photos and videos we’re taking has increased ten-fold, but we still have no idea how to organize and cultivate all that data. Data sticks are OK for video, but cumbersome for just flipping through photos. I could print them, but that costs money, and I’d still have to find and put together albums (Do they even still sell analog photo albums anymore?), and while I appreciate the form, I don’t have the patience (or, let’s face it, the talent!) to scrapbook, either.

So what’s one to do?

The more I think about it, the more I’m leaning towards a printed photo-book like the ones you can put together on a site like Shutterfly.com. It still costs money, but not as much as one might think. I put one together for me and Andy’s honeymoon to Switzerland, which included my entire travel journal (20k words, thank you very much!), and that turned out great. And we do still flip through it from time to time, which is the kind of accessibility I want. I put a little one together last year of the Little Guy for Andy for Christmas, and that turned out nice, too (and was dirt cheap with a coupon and no extra pages). While I still have to take the time to put the initial layout together and cultivate which pictures are worth including, the end product is as great as any album, plus it removes the problems of pages sticking together or photos fading or falling out of their slips.

As for videos, I’ve been slogging through 14GB of phone-footage for the past few weeks to compile an 8GB “Best of 2015” collection of the Little Guy for his grandparents and for us. (Seriously, *why* do we have 12 videos of him squeaking as a 3 month old? They’re even the same kind of squeaking! ^_^)

And then there’s all the fiction documents on my computer (plus assorted PDF bills, etc.). In past years I’ve done reasonably well keeping those organized in folders (“Edit/Rewrite” or “Submitted” or “In Progress,” etc.), but I always get sloppy towards the end of the year and need to go back to sort them into their proper spaces. I also need (really, really need!) to establish a good and dependable back-up system beyond just periodically emailing myself things. Seriously, that’s lame. Andy wants to get an external hard drive, so maybe we’ll do that in January.

But all of this takes time to cull through the massive amounts of data I’ve gathered like a packrat over the past year (*cough* or more *cough*) and determine what’s actually useful and what’s just virtual junk. There’s a part of me that feels like a virtual hoarder living in piles of useless data. The fact that I don’t have to look at it just makes it that much easier to keep bringing more data in. And then there’s the preservation element: it’s so easy to lose things on a computer. Yes, a fire could burn down your house, you could misplace a photo album, or spill coffee on it, but if something on your computer malfunctions? You’ve lost stuff, maybe forever, sometimes without any recourse for recovery of that lost stuff.

Duplicates, misnamed (or oddly named) documents, folders within folders within folders, there are a thousand and one hidey-holes to tuck data on a computer, and if there’s no thought going into the process of what to keep and what not to keep, it’s very easy to find yourself buried in stuff you don’t even remember saving (or why it was worth saving in the first place), and you can lose good stuff in this GIANT MASS OF OVERWHELMING DOOM DATA!!!

(*breathes*) Okay, sorry, I was starting to panic there a little. This is what drove me to do the photo-book of our honeymoon all those years ago. I had a computer scare and thought I’d lost every single one of those photos of our hikes and café lunches and breathtaking views of glaciers, and finally decided to get things organized. And now I know where it is–all together–if I want to look at it. And that’s the point of gathering all these photos and videos, isn’t it? To relive those best moments and remember?

We’re in love with gathering data, but if we really care about it, we’ve got to take care of it, too. And maybe it’s easier for me to take care of physical data on a shelf, if only because it’s visible. :)

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