A few tips on managing your digital archives

According to a study done in 2015, 68 percent of Americans have a smartphone. If you count yourself among this number, there’s a very good chance you have some pictures stored on it. Birthday parties, spouses, kids, Christmas, selfies…just think of all the file space your pictures take up!

On a somber but related note, have you heard of the coming “Digital Dark Age?” Computer scientist Vint Cerf, widely recognized as one of the founders of the modern Internet, coined this expression, which is based on the idea that if we do not take active steps to preserve our digital information, it may disappear forever, thus rendering any records we’re keeping for future generations lost.

“But wait,” you say. “I have all of my pictures saved on a disk/external hard drive/the cloud, so I’m safe, right?” Not necessarily. Take a look at the lifespan of media formats through history (below).

Do you have files or photos that are more than 10 years old? Digital files more than 10 years old are at substantial risk for loss or degradation, such that you might not be able to access them.

Think about it: if you had all of your pictures stored on your phone and you misplaced it, it got stolen, or perhaps it burst into flames, what would happen? Those pictures would be gone forever! So what should you do with those pictures?

Did you know that in its current form, Google Photos is only a year old? In just that one year, Google has collected almost 2,000,000,000 (that’s Billion!) animations, collages, movies, and other digital objects. Taking up 13.7 petabytes of space (1 petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, and consider that 1 terabyte is a standard hard drive on a laptop you can buy in the store today) and 24 billion selfies, it would take you 424 years to swipe through that many photos, according to Google’s blog page.

Now, before you get too depressed by all this news, there’s still time to take proactive measures to ensure all of your digital treasures are not lost. Here are some ideas on storing your digital archive, with an eye specifically toward photos.

1. Set up a folder on your computer to begin the process. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

2. Identify where all of your pictures “live.” Where are all of my pictures? I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Shutterfly, and many other photo storing apps.

3. Identify the important moments: do you really need 39 pictures of your 18-month old eating one dinner with her grandma? Perhaps you could pick the best 5.

4. Aim to have at least three copies of everything. I know how redundant this sounds, but if you don’t back it up, you run the risk of losing it. How you choose to do this is up to you, but you can use SD cards, a USB drive, DVD or Blu-Ray discs, external hard drives, or a cloud service.

5. Actively manage your archive. Now that you have a handle on your information, keep it that way. Post new pictures to your backup locations, make sure their date and geotag locations (if they’re turned on) are correct, and most importantly, keep up!

6. Lastly, if it’s feasible, print out the important moments and set a date to scrapbook. Think back to the photo albums you have or that you remember looking at as a child; maybe a picture or three per month that are important enough to want to pick up off your bookshelf.

We aren’t talking necessarily about preserving our cultural heritage by saving all the selfies you’ve taken; but we can begin to think about how to tame/manage our digital photo presence.

Denver Catholic archives

The communications office of the Archdiocese of Denver is taking steps to ensure that the Church’s rich history here in northern Colorado is preserved appropriately. We are working diligently to update our archives, and very soon, the Stafford Library will have on its shelves bound volumes of the first 20 years of the Denver Catholic Register. The rest will be added as they are completed in the coming years, with a fully digital archive to become available online shortly thereafter.

Stephen Sweeney is the director of the Cardinal J. Francis Stafford Library.

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.