Lesson from a 3.5" Floppy Disk

Old tech is too easily forgotten

Classic Imation 3.5 inch, 1.44 MB floppy disk

The Backstory

Remember back in the day when searching for computing resources and time in front of a screen was precious? Yea… I barely do either.

However, 20 years ago when I wanted to check email, I had to leave my room at college and walk 10 minutes to the nearest commons. Planning to use a computer was time-consuming and required planning. But what made the situation worse was making sure my files came and went with me without losing the data, because the survival rate of portable storage was abysmal.

So, when I stumbled across a relic going through drawers at work, a wave of memories came flooding in… how are you and where have you been 3.5" floppy disk?!

The Object

The unfortunate thing about finding this floppy disk is the fact that I can’t easily find out what’s on it. It’s a mystery!

The technology I have at my finger tips is incapable of solving the case of what data is on the disk.

There could be really awesome content on here or it could be totally blank… it’s a Schrodinger’s cat situation.

There is data on the disk, and there is no data on the disk.

So, I gave it to one of my 22 year-old college student interns with the following mission — access the contents of the disk. There has to be a resource on the university campus somewhere. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but after I handed him the floppy disk, he asked me what it was!

Really… am I that old?!

Well, I suppose he’s here to learn, so I told him the story of the floppy disk and what it was used for. It’s a similar situation my daughters had with the paper magazine cover that was “broken.” Yea… paper doesn’t interact with you when you touch it — modern tablet’s do.


1.44 MB… Can’t do much with that anymore!

Surviving in a limited data storage era

Back in 1999, I attended a computer class that taught Microsoft Office and basic computing. Going to class and working through workbooks of activities was almost a waste of time, but one thing never failed… after you saved your work, it was too easy to leave and forget the floppy disk in the disk drive.

Once a disk was forgotten, it was put on the classroom whiteboard tray in a lined, rainbow-like display with a lost-and-found vibe. If you didn’t put your name on the disk or had some kind of label on it, good luck finding it! All the colored disk varieties in the world couldn’t save you.

Because, there were people like me who were scrappy, cheap, and took the unclaimed disks. I stockpiled them… think about it…

It would take over 2,000 floppy disks in 1999 just store an averaged size photograph taken on a digital camera in 2017.

Crazy! Even back then, a lot of disks were needed to carry saved files and share work with others; not to mention, they had a short life-span. There was no such thing as “cloud storage” and saving files to a virtual drive back then.

But I was in luck; my backpack had quick-access slots for storing approximately 12 floppy disks… 2 in each each slot… Ha! Take that limited data storage devices.

After 20 years, I still have and use the backpack, and why not? It has a lifetime warranty! I just don’t have any use for those floppy disk slots.

The Lesson

When it comes to old technology, there’s nothing you can do besides try to keep up. Get what you need to accomplish what you need to do today, and when something new comes out and becomes the norm, move your information forward.

I can still access and read the Word documents I created in high school from the 1990's… fortunately, I don’t need to store them on floppy disks anymore. But what am I saving them for? What will I ever do with them? Answer… the same reason we keep old photos… to remember.

That’s what the 3.5" floppy disk is for me — a piece of hardware that brings back memories of how life used to be and how we had to get things done.

The Take-aways:

  • Keep some of those old pieces of technology. You never know when it might come back in style.
  • “The good ole days” is actually happening right now.
  • Tell the stories of how things were, so the next generation can appreciate how we got where we are.
  • Don’t be afraid to let go of old technology and embrace the new stuff.

I remember the floppy disk like it was yesterday, and the fact is, my daughters won’t, my college students might, but neither one of them will care.

BONUS: Who remembers the Zip Disk? I wasn’t fancy enough to have one of those thick floppy disks with 100 or 250 MB of space.

Written by Shaun Holloway.