Digitize All of Your Old Media

Technology has progressed so quickly that anyone over the age of 30 has probably amassed a collection of data generated in both analog and multiple generations of digital technology. (I'm looking at you, Commodore cassette tape drive.) And though you may never need a particular bit of data, being able to find an eight-year-old résumé or to search through a decade of tax returns may prove invaluable at some point. It's a great way to reduce clutter, too: Once you've digitized and backed up your old media, you can then recycle or otherwise dispose of much of it. So let's look at what you need to know to digitize all of your old media.

Organize Your Collection

First, you need to take inventory of the digital media you may need to convert or recover, including old machines, hard drives, and removable media. Make special note of anything broken or damaged, since getting that data back may require a specialist's help.

For analog media--including paper documents, tapes, and film--that you plan to preserve, you'll want a simple reference system for finding the source item from the digital copy. I recommend sticker labels, available at any office supply store. Once you've converted something, just write the filename on the label and affix the label to the box or file folder.

Where to Store Your Digital Archive

Hard disks: The fastest way to store digital copies is to use an external hard drive. An external drive with USB that can store a terabyte of data costs around $100. So buy two! Use one for active archiving, and keep the other as a backup in another location. In case of a calamity, you'll still have a copy. A terabyte drive will hold approximately 180 hours of high-definition video, 100 days of CD-quality audio, or the equivalent of 200 single-sided DVD-R discs.

Remote backup services like JungleDisk enable you to keep an extra copy of all of your files in a safe location so you can use them anywhere, anytime.

Remote backup: Another option is to store the data online. You can use software such as JungleDisk, which will store your data at a remote location that is accessible from practically any Internet connection. The software and service together cost $2 a month, plus storage costs based on how much you use--$15 a month for 100GB, $150 a month for 1TB. You can set JungleDisk to back up on the fly; that way, as you add to your digital history, the service will store new documents on multiple servers with near-instant accessibility.

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