Monday, July 17, 2017

A Luddite's Love Affair With Paper

Talking about the genealogy files on my dinosaur computer yesterday reminded me of one thing: the battle of pen-and-paper versus technology.

Those who have fully embraced their new digital lives have shed their paper files with near-delirious abandon. Some nearly gloat over dumping recycling all those boxes and boxes of carefully researched details of their family trees.

I am not one of those on the cutting edge. Besides loving to get my hands on a beautifully crafted piece of stationary, I have other reasons for considering my paper trail to be my backup plan.

The main reason has to do with the very thing I went through last week, as I had to flip the switch on my dinosaur computer. No matter how thorough we think we are when shifting from an old operating system to a newer one, somehow things get overlooked, and we have to go back to retrieve something.

Granted, running on Windows XP was a rather extreme example, and it's about time I stepped into the new century. However, in my defense, with my newer computer, I made the jump nearly straight from the XP clunker to Windows 10, with only a brief stop at Windows 7. It just so happened that, right after the purchase, the newer Windows product was launched—so why join the snivelers mourning the loss of the program about which they once complained bitterly? I wasted no time and jumped right into the newer one.

On the other hand, I had set up a rather extensive filing system for my old computer, including a great system for handling those myriad email queries—both incoming and outgoing—for my then-current genealogy projects.

To think that, once on a computer system, that liberates me to toss all previous records seems absurd. Yes, I know we can back up our computers. Yes, I realize things can be stored on the cloud. But should those things electronically go "poof!" at some point, then where is the backup?

I love paper. Paper has stood us in good stead ever since it arrived in the western world from its Chinese developers in the eleventh century. It's not going away any time soon—at least, not around my office.

In contrast, how long have computers been around? Besides which, just think of how often those software programs are changed. It is becoming near impossible to even run my ancient Family Tree Maker software. Unless I invested a great deal of effort regularly over the years to update those database programs, eventually they were not accessible. Paper, on the other hand, may be cumbersome to store, but once I put it in its storage container, it will still be there—probably longer than I will.

I put a great deal of thought into developing my filing system on my old computer, back in those years when it was a new system. Of course, now, that means very little, if I can't access it any more.

This, of course, gives me pause as I consider the storage boxes and file cabinets still holding information gleaned from decades long gone. Somehow, I'm hoping there will be a third option—a hybrid between extreme technology lover and Luddite paper lugger. Consolidation will probably be step one, as there is certainly a percentage of material that repeats itself in the years I've aggregated records. Drawing up a synopsis of material—--being concise to cut the clutter—will likely be another approach.

But taking the hard line of tossing everything? I can't see myself going there. I need something more tangible. Something that won't, oops, disappear into the ether with the click of a wrong button. If I could aggregate everything I know about my family's history into a book—something I can touch as well as see—then I think I'd be the happiest about the finished product of a pursuit that never does, in reality, get done.


  1. I agree with you--never, ever toss the paperwork. I'm a fan of inventory and index, to organize my documents and see what they tell me. And having had the blue screen of death crash more than one computer, I never trust digital records alone. Happy to have paper backups.

    1. Ah, yes, the terror of the blue screen of death. But just as much, the threat of creeping obsolescence keeps me constantly battling. The key, as you say, Marian, is inventory and index. Organization. Now, that's a battle of its own!

  2. Yes, I think keeping paper copies (especially of the important, irreplaceable files) is important. I have files backed up on portable hard drives, but sometimes those fail--as a computer hard drive can fail. And saving files in the cloud sounds good, but what happens if the cloud company decides to close down? I feel safer with paper copies as well as digital. However, I do need to keep them all organized!

    1. Jan, it looks like the key is organization skill. Those of us who have had technology issues--you mentioned the possibility of portable hard drive backups failing--may be twice shy about this, but hopefully, that provides the incentive to double down on our organizing efforts.

  3. I keep paper copies of what I have found, and from you I have learned to also include where I got the info from:)

    1. I know that was a helpful tip when I learned it, too, Far Side. I think of it as a chain of resources, or like a pedigree of where things came from. It all needs to point back to the source--especially if we need to retrace our steps and find it again!


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