Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash

A Plug & Play Life: How To Access Your Data From Anywhere

Niklas Göke
Jan 20, 2018 · 7 min read

In Germany, there’s this running joke. If someone comes up to you holding a phone with a smashed screen — which looks like a web — you can make a smug face and ask: “Did you download the Spider-Man app?”

While a lot of screen-broken phones still work after their near-fatal fracture, some don’t, and the survivors won’t last long. Yet, people hang on to them, partly because repair and replacement costs suck, but mostly, because moving their life to a new device is a painful process. That’s right. Life.

Most of your identity is digital. Photos, videos, music, wallet, voice messages, chat history, social activity, it’s all on your phone and laptop. Same goes for your work. Whether you’re on one device as a freelancer or spread across multiple PCs in the office and at home, chances are you could get little done offline. Even a huge chunk of your leisure time takes place in 1s and 0s.

That’s mostly a good thing. It saves time, space, and energy to access most of what you need through one or two devices. What’s not so great is that it makes those devices so-called single points of failure.


Why The Titanic Sank

In the night of the 14th of April 1912, the RMS Titanic sank after crashing into an iceberg, taking over 1,500 poor souls with it into its ice-cold, dark grave. The list of potential reasons for the ‘unsinkable’ ship’s demise is long and being debated until this day:

  • The captain ignored seven iceberg warnings to maintain speed.
  • The watertight compartments weren’t big enough.
  • Low-quality iron rivets were used in the ship’s bow and stern.
  • No emergency training had taken place, which is why launching the lifeboats took too long.
  • The number of lifeboats was 20, whereas 60 would’ve been required to save all passengers.
  • Fire-damaged metal was used for part of the ship’s hull.
  • All binoculars were locked in a special cabinet and the guy with the key to it wasn’t on board.

The list goes on and on. In IT systems, all of these would be called single points of failure: an element of a system that, if it fails, shuts down the entire operation. The more of those you have, the less reliable the system becomes. In case of the Titanic, all of the above could have lead to a disaster on their own, but combined, the voyage was stretching its luck from the start.

Going back to our digital lives, the devices that contain them are also single points of failure. You’ve either lived it or know someone who has: a phone was lost, a laptop died, and lots of invaluable data was lost. This is a risk most of us are exposed to out of laziness.

If it’d take you more than two days to recover from a broken phone or dead laptop, you’re not protecting the biggest asset in your life: your data.

Luckily, you only need one app to fix it.

Living On Cloud 9

In 2012, a friend told me how she prepared for every traveler’s worst nightmare: losing their passport. “I just keep a scan of it in my Dropbox. Worst case, I can go to the embassy and have a new one made in whatever country I’m in.” Until then, I had only used everyone’s favorite cloud storage app to store college materials, but suddenly, the gears clicked into place.

Going through the contents of my laptop, I realized I could store not just parts, but all of my digital life in this app and access it from anywhere.

For over five years now, I’ve lived a plug-and-play life. I’m never worried about traveling, I can work from anywhere, my digital file cabinet is clean, and I’m okay with leaving my laptop in trustworthy places unattended.

Here’s how you can do the same.

Getting Started

First, you need to set up a free Dropbox account, which gets you 2 GB of space, indefinitely. You can earn more free space by completing a variety of tasks or pay $100/year for 1 TB. A good alternative is Google Drive, which comes with 15 GB free.

Second, download the app on your desktop and phone. You’ll get a separate folder on your desktop, which you can fill and structure as you wish, and then access from the app or any web browser on any PC, worldwide.

Here’s the structure I use, which contains four folders in three categories.

Let’s walk through it step-by-step.

1. Most Important Documents

The folder named ‘Backup’ contains all of my correspondence, mostly Word and Excel documents, but also scans of essential documents, like:

  • Templates for cover letters, cancellations, and my CV.
  • My lease, pictures, and data of the apartment I live in.
  • Scans of my ID, passport, driver’s license, vaccination record, etc.
  • A sub-folder for tables with my expenses and private bills, for example for gifts.
  • Applications to colleges, jobs, internships, with full documentation.
  • My tax report.
  • Certificates, like my college diploma, employer recommendations, language test results, and so on.

The goal of this folder is to be able to walk into any copy shop on the planet and print an important document, should I need it and not have access to it. Or to buy a new phone, download the app, and show it to any government official or airport personnel that might require it.

Next, there’s work.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

2. Work Essentials

Over 30% of Americans are freelancers already and by 2020, it will be close to half. A big chunk of freelancing happens remotely, so if you are one, setting up shop has never been easier. My ‘Projects’ folder is split into three kinds of income:

  1. Ordinary Income: Whenever I trade my time for money, the documents go here. Coaching methods, media and call recordings, documents from translation gigs, the content and texts from my website for that service, and, of course, bills.
  2. Portfolio Income: These are mostly reports and PDFs I read in hopes of making smarter investment decisions.
  3. Passive Income: Each website I own gets a folder and then sub-folders for media, pages, posts, products etc. I also keep a backup of my email list.

Depending on what kind of freelance work you do, you might require a lot more space, for example because you design graphics or render videos a lot. In that case, Dropbox Plus or another paid option might be well worth the money.

If you’re not a freelancer and have no side hustle, then you needn’t worry because work stays at the office, but can always suggest an internal cloud backup solution there.

The second work folder I have is the ‘TUM-BWL…’ one, which contains all materials I need for school. This way, no matter where I am or what I want to work on, as long as I have access to a PC with internet, I’m good to go.

But I can also just chill.

3. Luxuries

For most of us, fun is the biggest item on our digital shelf already. Sure, we text and write emails, but the major space-hoarders are songs, videos, pics, funny games and entertainment apps.

While you can access most of that stuff online right at the source — Youtube, podcasts, blogs, Spotify, etc. — having a small percentage of it as an on-demand backup makes your life a little lighter, especially in those situations where you really need your supply chain in the cloud.

For me, it’s ebooks. That’s why I have a whole folder dedicated to PDFs of my favorite blog posts, books, and favorite downloaded content. It’s only a tiny selection, but wherever I am, I can always read something that makes me feel like home.

Whether you want to save a few hilarious clips, your favorite music videos, inspiring interviews, a few good novels or a classic photo album, make sure you pack a few emotions for your life on cloud 9.

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash

Optional: Memories

Depending on whether you choose a free or paid solution, you might have little space left or lots to spare. In either case, you could fill it with memories. What used to be basements full of photo albums are now hard drives and iCloud, but that doesn’t make our treasured memories less worth protecting.

I have my latest 1,000 photos synced to iCloud, do regular backups to an external hard drive with Time Machine and have a full, growing backup on CrashPlan.

On any free plan, it’ll be hard to store all your digital creations, so you might want to back them up elsewhere and select your most important ones to keep in Dropbox. If you’re paying, you can store them all in one place.

Easy Living

8.23 GB. That’s how much it takes to store my life in a lock box I can open on a trip through California, in the urban jungle of Sydney, or right at home on my couch. Besides the real thing, there are the offline files on my laptop and their copies in the cloud. No single points of failure.

How much more comfortable would you be if your laptop broke down with a solution like this? How less paranoid about dropping your phone? All it takes to protect what defines you is a little redundancy.

But you have to create it today. Not when the iceberg hits.

One of the files I keep up there is a long list of quotes, which includes one from a man who must’ve been a pioneer of the plug-and-play life:

“Do what is difficult when it’s easy.” — Lao Tzu

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. I’m also working on a book to help you live a balanced life:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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