The Dangers of Having Too Much Data

‘Who increases knowledge increases sorrow’. - Ecclesiastes 1:18

Today, when we have all this technology and cheap data storage devices, this quote proves true in terms of how we operate and store data on countless devices.

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Ten or fifteen years ago it was rather difficult to fill up those seemingly massive HDDs with 20 gigabytes available for quite a high price. All our music, videos, and photos could be placed on a humble bunch of optical discs (oh, those 650MB, you could store so much!). But today we are not really happy with the hundreds of gigabytes we have on our PCs, smartphones, and tablets. We buy more external HDDs and cloud storage space to store all the stuff we are accumulating. Of course, having an opportunity to store as much as we want is a good thing, in a way. But is it bringing us more problems than advantages?

Too much to store and backup

The first and the most actual problem is storage. Affordable Internet access and comparatively cheap storage devices made us mad collectors of everything that seemed important: movies, music, pictures, software, you name it — all this stuff goes right to our internal and external HDDs, filling up free space very quickly and forcing us to buy a new piece of hardware. But one day, when one of those HDDs fail, we are asking ourselves the question: How can we save everything we store? Backup is the obvious (and actually the only) answer, but it can take too much time, especially if you have a lot of small files (and you definitely have), and you will probably need some extra money to spend. Besides that, nobody can tell you the new HDD will not fail right after you’ve filled it up with all your data. You can always arrange a RAID though, but it will cost you a fortune.

There’s an alternative way — cloud storage: distributed data storage, high reliability, access from any internet-enabled device from any place — sounds like a perfect solution. But actually that’s only if you are rich enough or have almost nothing to store. For instance, DropBox service can give you only 2GB for free, some others will let you store maybe ten to twenty times more, but that’s it — you’ll have to pay to have more. So if you want to backup half of terabyte using DropBox account, prepare to say goodbye to $600. And that’s just for one year. Of course, you can use multiple accounts with a free gigabytes of storage, but it’s not as convenient as it may sound.

The more data you store, the more difficult it is to handle it.

Too much to transfer

Second big problem of having too much data is transferring. If you have an iPhone or a Mac you can do it in no time using default backup features, but it can be much more difficult if you are trying to transfer all your data from old PC with Windows XP to another one with Windows 8, especially if you have a big collection of files. The most easy way to do this would be establishing peer-to-peer connection using fast wireless or wired network. But it doesn’t solve another problem which you all probably face sometimes: all the files are somewhere on HDDs, but you can never tell where exactly. If you can remember where is any of your files on your computer, you’re either a prodigy or just mad about order. In any other circumstances it takes hours, if not days, to remember and find all the files you need to transfer from one device to another.

Anyway, after browsing every folder and picking every file and transferring all that mess to the new machine we’re getting rid of the old crap, and then a bright idea comes to our head telling us we forgot to transfer something very important. And that is the third problem!

Too much to lose

As you know, the more things we have, the less we care about them. And it works the same way with data. We are collecting all the movies we like, all the music (even if it’s not worth listening to more than once) we are filling virtual folders with pictures, documents, games, and tools. We think that if all this stuff is right there, inside the device we are now working on — it’s definitely safe.

No, it’s not. As I said before, any modern HDD can fail on any given moment. The same goes for everything else: folders can occasionally go to the trash can, important documents can be wiped out from your computer (because one day you hit ‘Rewrite file’), and only God knows what else can happen to your data. Also don’t forget about such things as crypto lockers and wipers, which can destroy all information on your device in a second and you’ll never get it back. So, while absence of couple of funny pics and a Justin Bieber discography won’t hurt anybody, losing some sensitive files can be a real disaster.

What can you do?

The ultimate way is to get rid of any data, because it works the same way as things do: first you own the data, and then the data starts to own you. However it’s not as easy as it sounds, so let’s leave it to those who want to achieve a zen-like state and move on with some practical and more realistic tips:

It’s not necessary to store all your multimedia locally: cheap Internet is a much better way to get access to any kind of music and video.

First, clean up. It’s much easier to place everything in order right when the data arrives, not when you already have half a terabyte of stuff which needs some hardcore sorting. But even in that occasion it’s worth cleaning up your storage. Yes, it takes time and patience, but you’ll thank yourself later when you need to find something within your digital warehouse.

Second, get rid of useless files. After some time of active work, your system can be full of different files which you’ll never use or maybe even know about: duplicates of some documents and multimedia files, cache, old versions of tools and games, etc. It’s a good idea to run a bunch of special programs which will find duplicates automatically and get rid of useless stuff like cache and unused files left by some software. The rest can be done with your own hands. For example, I use a very simple but effective way to find unused and big files: just sort all the files by size and by last date of use. It always helps me to free some extra space, which can be more than 10-20 gigabytes.

Third, don’t store everything locally. The habit of bringing every piece of content from the Internet to your PC was okay around 15 years ago. Now, when a high-speed Internet connection costs a little bit more than a breakfast in a café, it’s just not necessary. You can always watch your favorite show or listen to a new album online in a couple of clicks. As for me, I can’t remember when I was listening to music NOT using the Internet. Anyway, even if you want to go offline with some music or movies on your tablet, downloading them from the Net won’t take you much time.

Fourth, split your data and protect it accordingly. After cleaning up your storage devices it’s worth sorting all your files into tiers: work, home, private, archive, etc. Obviously, the more important the tier the stronger the protection needs to be. For instance, scans of some sensitive documents, private and financial data, electronic keys and other information like that should be placed locally, using a device which doesn’t have any connection to Internet. You can even encrypt it if you want. Also it will be better to make a copy of the files on a DVD protected by some strong encryption. Just in case. On the other hand, work files, if they’re not containing any valuable data for criminals, can be stored in a cloud, which will give you an opportunity to access it from every place you want from almost any type of device. Archives can be stored wherever you like, but I’d recommend to store it on an external HDD, as it’s quite cheap and doesn’t waste space on your internal HDD or SSD drives.

Of course, cleaning up your storage and keeping everything in order, not allowing the data to fill up all the available space, is  hard work. But believe me, it’s worth doing. Someday, when you have an upgrade or a transfer from one computer to another, you’ll feel you did everything right. And now just do an experiment: open a hard drive where you store everything and clean up half the data, just to feel the difference.

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