I wasn’t necessarily the fastest person to get online and embrace every new technology in the early days of the internet. I did have my AOL account in 1997, under my dad’s account of course. It probably wasn’t until about 2006 when I started to get interested in the internet and using technology for more than gaming. Before 2006 my family still had dial-up, the same internet we’d used since 1997, so for almost a decade we had to log onto the internet through the phone line and suffer those painfully slow bandwidth limitations. Unbeknownst to me in 2006 (I really wasn’t a tech savvy teen) DSL and other broadband solutions were becoming mainstream and allowing the internet to take on new forms and offer new and improved services to everyone. When we stopped using AOL and switched to our local broadband provider, it confused me at first that I didn’t need to log into anything, and could now log onto the internet with my new computer’s wifi function (I should mention that I cashed in $900 in savings bonds my grandfather left for me before he died to buy a laptop for college) using our new wifi router, this crazy little box with flashing lights that sat next to the phoneline.
My first couple years online I didn’t do too much exciting stuff(myspace was big then, and I messed around with HTML to customize my space…), I tried to start a website a few times, had a catastrophic failure with my first laptop’s hard-drive, discovered linux, and got myspace stalked more than once (and possibly stalked others). Google was a lot younger then, and the service suite they offer now was nothing like it was then, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to consolidate all of my digital possessions (data) that I own into the cloud.
I bought my first digital camera at a discount when I bought my laptop, and took pictures when I had the chance, this was before camera phones were good and smartphones were a thing. What always surprised me about digital cameras was how long it took for them to catch on, given how convenient they are. I’ve always taken photos in my patented spray and pray style, where I take a bunch of pictures of something at once (if there’s time) and then delete the crummy ones and hope for a good one when I get home that night. But because nothing I owned was networked to anything else yet, and I hadn’t learned about backing up my data, I lost all of my first pictures with that camera as well as a book I had written and was trying to get published, and some essays I had written in highschool that i had wanted to keep. I lost all of these possessions because I had saved them all on my laptop’s HDD, which broke one day when I was streaming a TV show (I dropped it, so my fault). Because my digital camera’s SD card wasn’t big and storage wasn’t cheap then, I just dumped all the photos into my laptop and never kept any extra copies outside of its hard drive.
After my first laptop died, a Dell for those wondering, I used my mom’s computer to try and find a replacement hard drive and move on from my loss. Unfortunately Dell had decided that the type of laptop hard drive my PC was compatible with shouldn’t be an industry standard, but instead a proprietary hard drive (basically the pins won’t fit a regular lap top hard drive and no one carried this kind of hard drive) from a manufacturer that wouldn’t sell direct to consumer. I contacted Dell and they offered to sell me a replacement, but it was way outside of my price range (I think I was still working at a sandwich shop then), so things seemed pretty grim, and I was starting to really hate this thing we call technology.
A week or two after the ordeal of finding a replacement hard drive started, I was hanging out with a friend who was going to a tech school and told him of my troubles. He suggested I just use linux, on a flashdrive (we called them pen drives then, no idea why). I had no idea what he was talking about and it sounded impossibly hard until he told me it was free and there were tutorials online. So being the stubborn 18 year old I was then, I tried to take that idea of running an Operating system on a flashdrive and adapt it to the proprietary one I’d always used (why learn this linux thing when I was raised on something else, right?), and after about a week of unsuccessful research and failed attempts I concluded that it was beyond my skill set to install this OS on a flash drive (and probably wouldn’t be legal if I had managed to succeed).
So in the end I took my friends advice and downloaded Ubuntu and installed it on my flashdrive. At the time, Ubuntu’s installation wasn’t as streamlined as it is now, and I did have some problems installing it and it didn’t run smoothly from the USB either. But, it did run, and I could use it, giving me back my PC essentially, plus it was free. So maybe this linux thing wasn’t so bad.
Eventually I discovered a distro of linux that ran great on a computer without a hard drive (puppy linux), and saved up and bought a new pc in 2009. By then I had purchased my first external hard drive and started putting everything on it, then bought another one and backed up everything from the first onto the second, so that I would never lose another one my of my possessions again.
And from 2009 until today (2015) a lot has changed! I’m happy to say that the loss of my personal digital possessions has been completely curbed by backing things up and eventually, by using the cloud.
Now I can scroll through a good chunk of my own data that google saves for me, for free, and look back over the years of documents and media I’ve generated in just six years. And what a six years its been! I moved to another continent, traveled to over 8 countries, and learned a new language (mandarin Chinese). But now, looking at all of this data I’ve accumulated, I can’t help but think its being wasted.
I like to think about the future of society and our technology a lot, as many of my close friends can attest to, and the idea of what to do with all of this data really interests me. Aside from making it really easy for someone with my password info to make a great eulogy for me one day, the potential for all of this data seems fairly large (especially for some company wanting to sell me stuff based on my interests).
The thing I always fixate on is AI, Artificial Intelligence. Specifically a personal assistant bot. What might a personal assistant bot do with all this data? choose random pics from my past to show me every day to remind me where I’ve been? help me plan better travels based on the travels I’ve had in the past? analyze my writing style and coach me on ways to improve? Maybe even help me find a career I had never considered before? I’d like to think at least some of these questions will be answered yes one day, and that my digital junk will become more valuable to me because of it. Until that day I suppose I’ll just continue to hoard all the digital things I generate, and hope to never experience a repeat of what happened to me last decade!