When I was an undergraduate (many moons ago) one particular professor would send around an email every exam and essay season. The subject line read ‘BACK UP YOUR WORK’ in uncharacteristic capital letters. The first few times I received this message I shrugged it off without so much as opening it but one afternoon in my second year, during a seminar on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the aforementioned professor, I discovered the reason behind his consistent email campaign – he’d lost the best part of a book to a technological blip and was running a valiant one man campaign to prevent any of his students suffering a similar fate. You might well suggest that anyone intelligent enough to be a university professor should know better but we are all human and sentiments like that do little to console people mourning the loss of their documents whether they be textual histories of Shakespeare’s plays or vitally important contracts that your impatient clients are eagerly waiting to sign.
Yesterday morning I thought of that white haired professor as I sat at my desk and stared at a computer screen with little to offer me while the office server teetered on the edge of giving up. The modern world of cloud storage and remote access servers is a brilliant thing that allows our own on staff professor to be fully involved with our work as he travels the world and our documents to be easily accessible when we have a brilliant idea in the middle of the night! Digital storage has eliminated the need for huge piles of paper, crammed into unpleasant archive boxes that collapse when you try to take them anywhere covering the dusty floor of your archive room in a now completely unorganised pile of rubbish but these conveniences have come at a cost. We have everything at our fingertips which means that everything we have is susceptible to loss. Whilst in the days of storage boxes all you really had to fear was fire, which you will discover during the study of medieval English is a much larger fear than you would have originally considered, digital storage can catch you out in a variety of ways from the temporary blindness of a power cut to the terrifying appearance of the blue screen of death.
Winchester BID are well practised in backing up their data, storing files in a variety of locations and all round making sure that we aren’t about to lose everything we have ever worked on but even so those hours on Tuesday morning without a server acted as a stark reminder of how fragile your digital life can be and so I seem to have found myself joining forces with my crusading professor, staring out into the wider world and shouting ‘BACK UP YOUR WORK’ to anyone that will listen.