Thinking through Personal Data

There are, when you think about it, at least a few different categories for what is often called *personal data*. There is, perhaps first, the stuff you need to have with you at all times, which can be various, but usually includes:

1. contacts, calendars, and tasks
2. email and messages

These are the basic pieces of data that lie behind most communication infrastructures: people with whom I need, or want, to talk; things I need to get done; how my time is allotted and spent. In terms of their appearance in my life life, these are things I use, or think I use, *constantly*.

Inevitably, of course, there is a huge swathe of material that we would also like to have with us or at least readily accessible. I use *swathe* here purposefully to indicate that not only is there a reasonable amount of material but that it comes in a variety of categories, and how you handle those categories is, in fact, the focus of a large number of life-hacking and productivity-consulting websites and businesses. A lot of this stuff is, especially for professionals, electronic versions of what was once paper:

3. documents, clippings, spreadsheets, drawings, images, etc.
4. blended versions that new media offers us — presentations with embedded media, links to websites, etc.

However you keep it, and keep track of it, what matters is that you need it and you need it ready-to hand. In terms of how these things matter in my life, these are things to which I need access *regularly*.

Pushing a little further away from being central to us every day are the kinds of materials that once lived in filing cabinets, photo albums, and boxes of various sizes in closets and attics — i.e., storage spaces:

5. materials not currently in use but have potential future use — this includes a wide variety of materials including proposals that have been submitted, plans and designs, media produced as stock, etc.
6. materials that must be kept as records, either for personal or institutional reasons.

The long tail makes its appearance in our lives, and it reveals things that it is increasingly easy, and inexpensive, to hold onto for long periods of time, because we use them *intermittently*.

In temporal terms, then, we have materials that are constant, regular, and/or intermittent. And some of this bears out in terms of the services we use to maintain their existence: as a Mac and iPhone user, I’m fairly happy to let Apple’s [iCloud][] help me manage my *constant data*. Apple’s 5GB allotment is room enough. For the slightly larger amount of stuff that is my *regular data*, I use [DropBox][], where my years of use have allowed me to grow my $10 for 10 gig allotment to something like 17GB. (Thank you DropBox!) But, like a lot of people, I struggle with storing the *intermittent data*. Right now, it sits in external hard drives either connected to a machine on my home network or sitting in one of those storage spaces away from everything else because, well, backup is important.

Data Store Size and Frequency of Access

Data Store Size and Frequency of Access

I will confess, however, that this arrangement is not as organized as I like. Yes, I keep some stuff Dropbox, not because it belongs there in terms of usage but because I can. Moreover, and running along a different axis than usage, I have some data that I would prefer to use more regularly, but because it is large in size, it tends to sit on those external drives at home. If you’re like me, then that’s stuff like your media library, e.g. [iTunes][] in my case; my [Lightroom][] library of images and (some video); and that catch-all collection of folders of audio, video, and images that haven’t made their way into some sort of management system or, like raw video of my daughter from when she was young, remain somewhat un-manageable, both in terms of file size but also in terms of software — does anyone really use iMovie to manage all the raw footage of their lives? (And is footage as skeuomorphic as it sounds or is it a sufficiently terminological word at this point?)

Right now, I live at the unfortunate convergence of usage and size: there are materials to which I would like to have easier access, like my Lightroom library, but I have not yet figured out a smoothly connected system. I am fairly sure [from what I read][] that I can place Lightroom’s library on a NAS device, the same as I can iTune’s library. I don’t mind them being only available at home, so long as they are reliably accessible and the access is not dreadfully slow. This was not the case with my previous NAS device, so I’m looking to upgrade. (And I’ll happily take suggestions!)

I know there are solutions out there that offer to store *all your data*, or at least some dimension of the *big stuff*, like Flickr and Amazon now do for photography and Apple now does for music, in a way, with iTunes Match. And that’s just the free and/or cheap options. I know it’s also possible with some of the backup solutions to access materials away from home, and I don’t mind paying for that option, except that a number of them require that everything exist originally on one machine on one drive, but I don’t have any terabyte drive-equipped machines. At home, everything is a laptop or an iOS device, save the Mini in our kitchen, with rather small SSDs. That’s what has us in this pickle in the first place!

I guess I am like a lot of people, then, wanting both centrality so that I know everything is at least in one place, which also would make it easier to back up, but that I want that center to be easily accessed from the many margins of my life.

[iCloud]: http://www.icloud.com
[DropBox]: http://dropbox.com
[iTunes]: https://www.apple.com/itunes/
[Lightroom]: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom.html
[from what I read]: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/12/how-to-offload-your-itunes-library-to-a-nas/

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