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: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.