The New York Times: The Great Crash
By Virginia Heffernan, 6/8/09
A few weeks ago, my laptop suffered a fall onto linoleum that made its congenitally nervous hard drive more nervous even than usual. Fortunately, days later, the drive turned miraculously tranquil, efficient. Its anxieties disappeared, as if by magic. There was no freezing or whirring. I wrote some e-mail messages, surfed the Web and organized some photos before shutting things down.
How was I so easily fooled? Looking back, I should have seen that in our last hours together my drive was not at all well. It was only putting on a brave face, settling its affairs and coming to peace — preparing to die.
When next I opened my laptop, it had no face at all. No sad-Mac icon, or even one with X-ed out eyes. There was just a blur of horizontal lines, like an inconclusive lie-detector test.
I aimed to feel inconvenienced but not panicked as I set off for a Mac fix-it shop called Mikey’s Hook-Up, anticipating the hipster repartee of the people who work there. Amid their funny vintage posters for “E.T.” and “The Lost Boys,” surely they would chalk up my troubles to something simple, and I’d have my drive back, maybe that very day. Maybe better than ever.
Alas, as he considered the busted drive, Matthew Kane, a technician I spoke with by phone, seemed grave. As I explained my laptop’s recent vivacity and its earlier fits of whirring, I knew from his affect: what I was saying was useless to him. “All drives eventually fail,” he said. The bad news was on the screen and would need — before long — to be broken to me. Kane only half-concealed his dread. He seemed not to want to get emotionally involved. An engineer patently averse to drama, especially the drama of women who personify their computers and probably don’t methodically back up, Kane must have feared cases like mine.
“Do you back up?” Kane asked.
I wanted to lie, to faint, to say nothing, but Kane was my only hope for redemption and recovery, so I told the truth: “Never.”
“Never” stretches it. I used to back up, in the days of external Zip drives — the Iomega device that was once state-of-the-art for data storage — when I worked on long documents like term papers. In those days, the fear of losing data was intensely present. Power would surge in a storm, or you’d inadvertently select all and hit one dumb key — and it would be curtains for your whole essay on lesbian themes in “The American.” You’d feel like dying; you’d refuse to talk about it; you’d hotly rewrite, feeling broken and betrayed. The pain would last for days. Like young women in novels who join convents when jilted, some people I knew returned to typewriters or even longhand after they lost data.
Eventually Word began allowing users dozens of chances to undo things while editing, and it auto-saved documents and recovered data after crashes. All these redo options helped to disguise the evanescence of screen data. I relaxed. I stopped printing things out. Increasingly, I was using Web platforms and Web-based e-mail anyway. What I wrote stopped seeming like personal property to be kept under lock and key; it seemed instead like a vote or a tax return — a prosaic contribution to the republic of the Web. My “work” — as I sent it around in e-mail-message attachments and enclosures — turned closer to spoken language than ink on paper. Only a mad narcissist would record and save his every utterance.
But I had photos and songs on my drive, and I was still keeping a diary in a Word file. I also had Word-file diaries from 1993 to 2009 that I had rolled over from earlier laptops. These I never e-mailed; I had also never printed them out. They seemed to belong exclusively on my hard drive. Sometimes I would search old 100-page diaries for reminders of my past preoccupations. I remember that one male name turned up 100 times on one page in a diary from 1995.
Kane called me not long after I left his shop. He’d been unable to retrieve any data. The drive wouldn’t even spin. He didn’t pause for my silent tears. Besides, he had an idea: Would I like to send the drive off to a hallowed spot near San Francisco, a data-recovery court of last resort called DriveSavers? Its technicians would dissect the drive in a multimillion-dollar “cleanroom” facility, clone every garbled sector of it and reassemble it. Maybe they’d get it all back! I imagined a madness-inducing Georges Perec literary exercise — recreating a novel I’d never read from 500 pages of scrambled letters. Sounded very hard. The people at DriveSavers wouldn’t make me pay for their effort, but if they recovered data they would charge me up to $2,700, depending on how much work they had to do.
Kane assured me that DriveSavers was the best in the business, and soon my drive was winging its way to the headquarters in Novato, Calif. I’d have to be Blackberry-only while I waited, since Apple wouldn’t give me a new drive until the company got my bum one. (A sliver of good news: the drive was still under warranty.)
While I waited, I skimmed the DriveSavers site, which inspired confidence — sort of. Headshots of no-joke stars like Harrison Ford, Sidney Poitier andSarah Jessica Parker were captioned with their tales of deliverance through data recovery. The ministrations of DriveSavers had apparently put Willie Nelson “on the road again.” They had given Keith Richards “satisfaction.” People had become themselves again. The actress Milla Jovovich testified, “You really saved me!”
But they saved me jack. They were really nice at DriveSavers, but they got nothing. Not a dot of data, not a fragment of an overheated e-mail message or a sad note of a Nick Drake song.
Back my hard drive went to Apple, then. I had nothing to hold, nothing to bury. The thought of the photos I’d never see again made me sick. The diaries. The hundreds and hundreds of dollar songs from iTunes, and the pricier movies and TV shows. It’s just old-fashioned losing — not post-copyright losing, where there’s always a copy in the cloud somewhere — when you lose an iTunes library. I lost my beautifully archived e-mail, too. I use a Web-based e-mail service, but not one like Gmail that stores everything forever. All my addresses were gone. All exchanges with friends, colleagues, oddballs. The note I once got from James Gandolfini.
The dull wooziness of having no data is hard to describe. I’d call mine flulike symptoms. The world seemed like a far-off place; I felt disassociated from it, in exile. There was a time after I got my new untouched drive before even one e-mail arrived. There seemed to be nothing to me: no photos, no music, no letters, no journals, no documents.
I took down “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” from my bookshelf: “If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.” I wasn’t getting anything back. My data were gone for good.
I did feel light — unburdened, if not exactly stable. Then an e-mail message arrived.
POINTS OF ENTRY
This Week’s Recommendations
HOMEGROWN: The Apple Stores have become unlikely tourist traps. Take your ailing Apple product to an authorized local repair shop instead for more fixing, less theme park. Find a shop near you at apple.com.
SAVED: The DriveSavers Web site — drivesaversdatarecovery.com — shows pictures of unsalvageable-looking hardware. Consider the blackened, corroded “toasted Toshiba.” Sure, my gonzo drive stumped them, but that doesn’t mean yours will.
ETERNAL RETURN: If history disturbs you, and you long to forget, don’t back up your data, and sooner or later you’ll be free of it. This kind of mad solution to life’s problems derives from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Find the novel on Amazon.
Read the original article at the New York Times