Archiving Me: The Mess That Is My Digital Life

I’ve always considered myself an organized person, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m a messy person with organized intentions.

If my work cube is a mess, I will eventually take the time to sort it all out and have a clean cube for a few weeks until disorder takes over and the cycle repeats itself.

Same with my inbox. I am not an Inbox Zero zealot, though the reality of that life does sound delightful and would probably make my work day a tad more productive.

Basically, I am bothered by a mess, even though I don’t always spring into immediate action to clean it up.

The problem with living in 2015, however, is that the messy desk extends beyond my cube into cloud and hard drive-based realms that exist outside my field of vision and therefore usually escape my plan of organizational attack.

I’m talking about the thousands of photos, files, music, blog posts and other digital assets that I have been amassing and failing to uniformly organize for more than a decade. I’m a fantastic digital historian — I save anything that could be of interest or value. But I’m a terrible digital archivist — I haven’t had a single system for cataloging my stuff.

I don’t even know where to begin.

I started my first blog — on Xanga — in 2003. I’m pretty sure that site is defunct, so if I have any prayer of finding my mid-college musings, I’m going to have to pray that the Wayback Machine saved those posts and I’ll have to spend my precious free time copying and pasting the posts into a Word document that I can save…somewhere.

Which leads me to my next problem: where is that somewhere? I have files on my work laptop, files on my home desktop, files on my old home laptop, photos on my parents’ computer, and files on a backup external hard drive that I started to try to get organized several years ago.

The majority of the music I own is currently trapped inside a 2006 video iPod that is on its last legs and not synced to a single computer — the music has been culled from various sources over the last nearly 10 years. I have all of my email correspondence from college saved in Eudora mailbox files somewhere, too.

If the next 60 years of my life prove to be more monumental than the first 30, I pity the archivist who is tasked with collecting my digital “papers.” Barring my historical significance, I’d still like to get things straightened out enough to ensure that some of these photos and documents are around to show my grandkids — or that I’m at least able to beam old JPEGs and MP3s into the chip in their brains or however we’re doing it by then. Everyone deserves to read my old newspaper stories on the Arlington Heights Library Board and listen to my deep track Frank Sinatra collection.

It’s been said that the Internet is forever…which is approximately how long it would take me to get this all archived in a way that both makes sense and secures these files for the future.

So how do you do it?

Is there a cloud solution? I’ve been saving images from my phone on Google Photos lately because the storage is free and unlimited and my iPhone needs the storage space. But if Google shutters that tomorrow, I’m up a creek with none of my photos of paddles.

Should I recommit to saving everything on a physical hard drive? But those have been known to fail eventually, too. So now do I need to have a physical and cloud version of everything just to be safe?

Perhaps my best bet is just to print everything out — binders full of old AOL Instant Messenger conversations, Shutterfly books of every photo I’ve ever snapped, and volumes of self-published books containing college papers, old articles I wrote and blog posts from the various blogs I’ve maintained over the years.

Seems like what I will really need in order to clean up my digital mess is lots and lots of time. Is there an app for that?

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