The Great Computer Disaster; or, Backing Up: A Cautionary Tale

Four days ago, the unthinkable happened. My computer stopped working.

Well, to be honest, the computer itself didn’t stop working. What actually stopped working was the battery. My formerly portable laptop had become a desktop, tethered to my desk and the power cord snaking across my living room floor. My first instinct when my computer battery stopped working? I scoured the internet for possible solutions. After all, the computer still recognized the battery was inserted, and the battery itself lit up and said that it was 83% charged. I tried various battery updates and finally updated to a new operating system. I reset the PRAM and the SMC (or is it SCM) and everything else. It became clear the problem was beyond me and my father, who I had harassed for hours over the phone.

I took the computer in on Monday night. “Well, if somebody doesn’t look at it tomorrow, they’ll definitely look at it by Wednesday.” On the verge of hysteria, I informed the helpful customer service attendant that ready or not, I would be picking up my computer the next day. While this experience has sparked a lot of reflection on the ways in which we as a society and educational community have become hooked on technology to the point of incapacitation without it, this isn’t the point of this post.

The real point of this post is what happened afterwards. The computer specialist confirmed that my battery was obviously defective and would have to be replaced. “It should work fine, as long as it’s plugged in to the wall,” he assured me, and I believed him. For the most part, my computer is working fine. Tonight, however, a realization worse than a broken $160 battery occurred.

My undergraduate folder was missing. Gone. Vanished. As if it had never existed.

An accurate depiction of my face when I realized my folder was missing. Don't let this happen to you! (Image Credit:

Now, this may not sound like a big deal. However, that folder was my life. From the summer of 2007 until the spring of 2011, that folder held all my productivity. Every lesson plan from student teaching, every essay I’d written for over 120 credit hours worth of classes, was gone. At first, I tried not to panic. I checked every place I thought the folder may have been moved to. I searched the entire hard drive for key words. I checked in my empty trash can, hoping for a miracle. Those 15 minutes of frantic searching were some of the most painful in my entire life.

In the depths of my despair, I had a suddenly realization. I had backed up my computer the previous weekend, and so an entire copy of my computer hard drive was sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be put back into storage. My hands trembled and so I fumbled the cords as I tried to contain my tentative joy. I rationalized that the folder must have only vanished within the past few days, probably in the middle of one of my many attempts to fix the battery.

Lo and behold, the folder was there. I clicked and dragged it out of the Time Machine and on to the desktop. I’m not trying to rub my wonderful computer back-up experience in your face. What I am trying to do is communicate to you how important it really is to back up all your work. Investing in an external hard drive that you update on a fairly regular basis may seem like an unjustifiable expense, until you have the feeling of doom that I felt this afternoon.

My story has a happy ending, but other such stories do not. Entire photo albums, erased. Doctoral dissertations, lost. Expense reports, vanished. How do you emphasize to others how important it is to back up electronic work?


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