Beware the Cyber Dog

As long as mankind has had writing we have been recording our ideas and thoughts in written form. From the temple priests of ancient Egypt to the philosophers of ancient Greece to the Victorian writers who took sixteen pages and a bottle of ink to describe a sunrise.

Indeed, there has always been a driving desire among writers to get their words out of their heads and down on paper, or vellum ,or parchment, or, in the case of the Mesopotamians, bricks. But only in the last two decades has the idea of putting words down in a non-tangible format actually become something that would seriously be considered.

In fact, there is something of a debate that is still going on regarding the need to save a hard copy of all of your online work or ideas that are stored in electronic format. Those against saving a hard copy point out that with so many backup systems available, the chances of losing your online work (or the work stored on your computer) is slim to none while those for it say that electronic documents are nothing more than an illusion and that, given the right set of circumstances, you could end up losing all of your work.

Oh, did you think that your online blog is the equivalent of hard copy journals? Let me ask you this, what would happen if your webhost had a complete system failure? Well, hopefully you would have backups on your hard drive (or thumb drive) right? Well, let’s hope, for your sake, that the webhost’s system failure wouldn’t go hand in hand with an electronics failure (such as could be expected in a major solar storm) or even just a system crash on your own computer due to a nasty computer virus.

The point is, while you can take multiple steps to safeguard your information on the Internet and even on your own hard drive, the fact is that you are recording your ideas in cyberspace, it may look as if you have a page of written words, but it is really an illusion, and if for some unforeseen reason you no longer had access to electricity (as I did one memorable summer when dealing with two hurricanes on top of each other) you also have no access to any of the work that you have done as well. And then there are the dangers of confronting the cyber-dog.


Wait, what was that about a cyber-dog?

Well, you remember that old excuse that kids used to give to their teachers, the one about the dog eating their homework? Well, in today’s world of electronic communications the culprit is an electronic dog, one that eats bits instead of kibble and whose byte is annoying as it can take great chunks out of your stored information.

How many times have you sent an email, or uploaded a picture from your iPhone, only to never have it go through? That’s because the cyber-dog ate it. Of course sometimes it shows up hours (or even days) later maybe Fido was playing fetch. Ok, so it wasn’t the cyber-dog, it was actually it was because all the pieces or Packets of information that got sent out failed to get reassembled at their destination. While most online systems have safety features in place to help prevent this, sometimes it’s just impossible for the information you sent to get to where it’s going. Mind you it doesn’t happen often that all of your information completely disappears, but it can happen. This is another reason to always make copies of everything that you’ve written.

In fact, there are at least three layers of protective “clothing” you should be wearing to protect yourself from the bite of the cyber-dog:

1). Always save a copy of your work on a separate hard drive or thumb drive.  While this may seem like overkill, especially if your computer has a great deal of storage space on it, remember that accidents do and can happen.

2). Never write your blogs or written work directly on the website or in an email. If you write a regular blog or upload written material directly through an online uploading system, at least write it out (and save a copy of it) on your own computer. This will prevent needless re-writing should your document go missing in cyberspace.

3). Print out a hard copy of any work that you particularly value. Trust me, if something unforeseen happens, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t.

I’ll never forget the completed and corrected version of my book that I blithely sent off to the publisher via email (without printing it out) only to find that it never arrived. And when I went to retrieve it off of my computer I found that a worm virus had eaten through the bulk of my stored copy. I had a copy of the uncorrected manuscript on a thumb drive, but I had lost three months worth of editorial work and had to start from scratch. Try explaining that to your editor.

Of course then there was the time that I not only lost an article that I had emailed to the magazine I was writing for, but the thumb drive that I had the copy stored on literally broke in two and my IT dude was unable to retrieve any information off of it. I lost the commission from the article because I missed the deadline (the editor didn’t like the cyber-dog excuse). But I certainly learned my lesson. I now have stacks of hard copies of my completed work. They take up a whole corner of my den (and probably a small forest), but it certainly beats the alternative.

So yes, while computers, computer storage systems as well as online uploading and online blogs can be  marvelous tools for today’s writer, keep a wary eye out for the cyber-dog. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the cost of printing off a hard copy of your documents definitely beats the sinking sensation you get when you realize that it is gone for good and probably buried like a bone under some virtual reality shrub on a back street in Second Life.

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