Protect Your Data, Maintain Your Sanity

Outside of the everyday anxieties many of us have, four things in particular really kind of freak me out. Here's the list, and it ain't pretty:

• Stories about sunburns
Unusually large flags
• The 'We Are Farmers' jingle
• Data loss

Maybe I should have specified by saying the list ain't pretty to me. In fact, it's downright harrowing. Although if I had to pick the worst offender, 'data loss' would easily come in at number one. Over the years, I've heard too many tales of woe from students and fellow writers, all of which follow the same tragic template: "X happened to my hard drive, which caused me to lose Y pages of my Z."

Since this isn't algebra, let's fill in the variables. X can be physical damage, wear and tear, or a nasty computer virus. Y is a numerical value between one and everything. And Z is anything from a thesis paper to a screenplay to a novel about sentient USB cables taking over the White House. (The latter is © 2015 Steven Shehori, all rights reserved.)

As someone who writes for a living, these stories affect me personally. But data loss is an equal opportunity offender. It will just as easily suck away your income tax spreadsheets, your travel photos, your wedding video, or your list of Nana's Old World stuffed cabbage roll recipes.

In many ways, data loss -- especially the extreme cases -- is the modern-day equivalent of a house fire. Except here's the distinction: without the stark image of a charred, demolished structure, the empathy you'll receive from others will be at best subdued and at worst non-existent. Why? Because even though your life is now upended, everything on the surface appears the same. Zero has physically changed. Even the dastardly laptop that got you into this mess doesn't look remotely different.

Data isn't physical. Tangible. Tactile. It's an ethereal son of a gun, one that's stored and shared in various ways: hard drive, smartphone, tablet, the cloud, across Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) -- the list is long. If your $70,000 Lexus goes missing, the cops get involved and your friends take you out for a round of sympathy drinks. If $70,000 worth of software vanishes from your hard drive, well, it's all on you, my friend. And that kinda sucks.

You may remember 20 years ago, when the wonderfully talented Canadian actress Margot Kidder was placed in psychiatric care after being found living on the streets of Los Angeles. What you may not know is that Kidder, a longtime bipolar sufferer, was triggered into this state after her computer chewed up her nearly-completely autobiography. Yep, data loss compromised not just years of work, but her psychological well-being too.

Fortunately, there's a two-pronged silver lining to this story. 1) Kidder managed to get her life and career back on track. 2) Technicians were able to retrieve her lost data. Wonderful developments to emerge from a truly awful scenario. The reality though, is that the opposite could have just have easily taken place.

So yep -- are you starting to see why tales of data loss can be more disturbing than all seven of the Saw movies combined? It's a silent, invisible menace that has no qualms about rattling you to your very core. So for the love of all things holy, protect your valuable data! Back up your stuff! Often. Seriously, don't make me come over there.