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 When all digital files failed, hard copy saved the day

This is a follow-up to my People who need people post. As the previous post addressed the need for real, live people in the customer service mix versus all-digital, this one discusses the digital versus hard-copy issue.

For those firmly committed to all-digital, all the time, good luck. You’re gonna need it. My recent technology meltdown makes a great case for hard-copy backup in critical cases. We all know the tech drill—SNAFU: Situation Normal All Fouled Up (yes, I substituted the word “fouled” so as not to run afoul of the social media mavens).

In the end, all-digital, all the time leads to poor customer service, because it only addresses the needs and preferences of some—some of the time. My latest experience is a case in point.

My Microsoft Outlook indexing wasn’t working correctly, so I couldn’t find a much-needed document. When I went to Google on my phone to find it, I discovered that the supposedly “complete” mirror backup to Outlook didn’t contain what I needed either.

Discouraged but unwilling to give in, I went to a hard-copy backup I’d made. Voilà, there it was! Problem solved. (BTW, my indexing issue mysteriously resolved itself later in the day after many theoretically successful efforts to fix it, according to Microsoft’s troubleshooter “fixed” notification. It wasn’t fixed. So, another tech SNAFU. Why we’re not all totally insane at this point, I don’t know—that’s a tech topic for another day.)

The point is that my old-school, “old” way of backing up worked when everything digital failed. I’ll harken back to the airline pilot who once announced that the keystone to airline safety is redundancy—after we experienced a technical problem.

Well, in this case redundancy was critical, too. But, the key takeaway is that digital can fail across the board. Files get corrupted, connections go out, the cloud isn’t infallible…and so forth. So, make a backup using a non-digital medium: paper.

This suggestion, of course, will provide negative response from those advocating going paperless to save resources and help the planet. I agree with the aim, but until/unless we find a way to “back up” using systems totally devoid of vulnerable digital interaction, hard copy is my fall-back backup of choice.

Of course, there’s a big middle ground and opportunity for trade-off. I don’t typically make hard copies of non-essential documents. I’ll save them in a couple of digital ways (including my external hard-drive backup), understanding that the file could get corrupted. So far, this middle-ground approach has worked well 99% of the time.

The key point of this “it’s not all or nothing” post is simple but very critical: Odds are extremely high that at some point our electrical grid will go down/be sabotaged and taken out. The same is true of the internet, including cloud-based systems, cell phones, you name it. Duration of the shutdowns is unknown.

I started a book in 1989 based on the premise that the Japanese (they were the 800-pound gorilla rival back then) had planted technology in our cars, telecommunications, et al that was programmed to fail simultaneously. Given the preponderance of Japanese cars, technology, communications systems and the like, the likelihood of this bringing the country to a standstill would have been very good.

(Yes, I know there have been other plots around similar ideas, but I believe most if not all came about after my idea. So, I’ll take some credit for being original, albeit not persevering in my task to finish the book.)

Reality bites. Now, we face very real cyber-based and other horribly crippling threats that can take down our digital and other high-tech systems from many forces trying to ruin us.

In this realm, as well as the natural failings and flailings of technology, “all digital all the time” doesn’t make any sense. At least with hard copy, you’re likely safe unless a fire, flood, or other catastrophe occurs.

Just as an all-or-nothing political environment has major limitations, so does all-or-nothing technology. It is a great, useful tool to enhance our lives. It is NOT the answer for everything. Those who believe it is are shortsighted.

Incidentally, I have a real, old-fashioned typewriter sitting next to my laptop. While I’m under no illusion that it would replace the advanced technology we all routinely use and respect, it does remind me of something I said decades ago: “In 50 years, they will invent a device that enables users to transfer words to paper without a high- technology interface. It will be called a typewriter.”


Mark Lusky Communications helps companies that honor customers, workers, communities, the environment, and stakeholder governance tell their story to the world. Interested? Let’s talk.

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