Here's how it went down: I was torn between, on the one hand, a desperate desire to buy the brand-new Absolutely Wonderful product that Apple Computer had just introduced with a kick-butt Super Bowl commercial, the Macintosh, and, on the other hand, a perennially empty purse. The Apple iic, a DOS-based computer that was winning rave reviews, was much, much less expensive, and it had the advantage of being completely compatible with the machines at my school. As I said: I was torn. I researched them both and my heart said Mac Mac Mac but my head said listen to the echo of your empty purse, you idiot, and warned me to buy the iic.
About this time, the radio station I was listening to teamed up with Apple to offer a promotion they called "An Apple a Day For Thirty Days": every day in May they would give away a Macintosh. All you had to do was call in within thirty minutes if your name was called. And they told you in the morning which hour they'd call a name. So I submitted my name and I waited, because I absolutely knew that I would win. When I was in school, I had a friend listen for me. When I could listen, I listened myself. And day by day I waited, and they did not call my name, but I knew they would.
One day, when they had called the name during the noon hour, I listed to a tape after school instead of the radio for the first time in weeks. The next morning, I was greeted by students who asked: So did you win? They had heard my name called, they told me, right after school. Impossible, I thought. But a call to the radio station confirmed it: according to the contest rules, they had to give a computer away each day. If one name did not elicit a call, they pulled another, and so on. On this day, they pulled names for over four hours. I had been one. I nearly cried, but instead I asked what happened to the names that did not win and was told they went back into the bin. So I redoubled my efforts, certain against all odds that they would pull my name again.
And one day, in the fourth week of the month, literally five minutes after I had given in and bought a iic I had found a great deal on, they did call it. I sold the iic and I had myself a Macintosh. And I've had Macs ever since. I may not be the most computer savvy person in the world, but I know my way around more than the basics. I have a website that I set up almost a decade ago, my classroom is almost paperless, my students use the web as an extension of the class, and (of course) there is this blog.
So you'd think, after 22 years of experience with computers, I might have learned the most intrinsic rule of thumb of working with them: back stuff up.
Oh, I know it, all right. I mean I've been burned more than enough times to engrave that particular rule into the deepest creases of my brain. And I have automatic backup programs like Backup and Time Machine that keep extensive recordings of everything I create on a separate hard drive that has approximately 450 bazillion times the storage capacity as that first Mac I won in 1985 (which didn't even have a hard drive, not that anyone knew what a hard drive was in 1985). But still the dumbest mistakes cause me trouble. Last week I nearly lost my entire web site while attempting to mirror this blog as its front page. After about fifteen hours of online chats with tech reps--no exaggeration there, BTW--the site was salvaged, but I still lost four days of class posts on our bulletin boards. Why? Because I did not back up the site's contents before trying things that were unfamiliar.
It would have been a simple thing to do: a few clicks of the mouse button, really. Things that can save us all sorts of trouble usually are the simplest of things if we just think to do them. Fasten your seat belt. Cut your meat. Don't drink and drive. Use sunscreen. Use insect repellent. Wear sunglasses. Watch your portions. Things like this are easy to do; if we do them, we will be better off. If we don't, well, we run a risk.
Of course our computers are not the only things we back up. Robert A Heinlein wrote of times "when one may have to back up his acts with his life." Though in context he was speaking of what happens when citizenry is armed, our political candidates discover the truth of this line almost every day: with the intense scrutiny they face, their lives and their acts had better back each other up. Don Drysdale once said of weak ballplayers, "Their abilities and their attitudes don't back up their beards." The notion that we must hold ourselves responsible to maintain and support whatever we present to the world is not new by any means, but in the computer age, the age of Instant Information, when anyone can disseminate anything to everyone in the blink of an eye, responsibility takes on new meaning. Back up words with actions. Stand bby what you say. This is not a message only for politicians running for the highest office in the land. It is a message for us all.
Of course, when it comes to hard drives and what is on them, we had better remember to take that concept literally, and not be like the person who, when told he needed to back up his hard drive, struggled for hours to do so before finally giving in and contacting tech help to ask, "How on earth do I put this thing in reverse?"