Does the annual spring clean reach into our digital devices?

Walk through any city of note, or spend time in any restaurant, and there will be people taking photos and videos of friends, themselves, or their meals. Once an activity that was linked to the cost of having film developed, photography and videography is now in the pockets of almost everyone. But where do all those photos end up? And do we ever take time to delete videos that we no longer want?

With the 31st March designated as World Backup Day, Toshiba decided to reach out the world’s social-media-savvy via Facebook to ask how we are securing our precious memories and whether we are taking time out to spring clean our smartphones, laptops and PCs. To view the infographic with the results, please click on the “Download” button.

How easy is it really to back up our stuff?
Many of us will have, or know someone who has, a data-loss disaster story. We’ve either deleted the only copy of a critical file, or the demise of a laptop or phone has also taken our data with it. When questioned post disaster, it always seems that our unfortunate friends had intended to implement some sort of backup regime but, for various reasons, had not got around to it. Luckily, according to our survey, this is looking to become a thing of the past. Of the 1600 responders, 73% claim backing up files from smart devices and PCs is easy, while 27% still find it difficult.

Part of the reason for this could be that operating systems for smartphones, tablets and PCs are delivered with a range of backup and synchronisation services. On PCs, deleting a file no longer removes it from the hard disk immediately. Instead, it is moved to a trash can, allowing inadvertently deleted files to be recovered if needed. Android devices maintain a copy of photos and videos in the Google Photos library, while Apple users have the same functionality through the iCloud Photo Library. Once uploaded to the cloud, user’s photos and videos can be synchronised to other devices, such as tablets, as well as with browser-based services.

Does spring cleaning extend into our digital lives?
Spring cleaning is thought to originate from the Persian new year tradition of ‘shaking the house’, but could also be linked to the ancient Jewish practice of cleansing the home before Passover. Regardless of where it started, the season of spring, with life blooming all around us, seems to be a good time to clear out unwanted junk. But are we also clearing out our digital junk too?

According to our respondents, the answer is a resounding yes, with 87% claiming to have deleted unwanted photos and videos from their digital devices in the previous twelve months. Despite the masses of storage available in today’s smartphones, the maximum capacity is eventually reached, leaving us to decide whether to keep photos or videos, or remove apps that are used less often. Even cloud storage solutions only provide a limited quantity of storage for free, so we are forced to decide between clearing out, or shelling out for more storage.

Are we optimising our available storage?
Memory has always been at a premium since the invention of the PC and there have been many tools developed to optimise the available memory. These range from the compression of files on drives, to solutions for expanding the amount of available memory. The participants in our survey stated that only 44% of them use some sort of app to optimise storage on their digital devices. Perhaps one reason for this is the negative connotation linked to optimising storage; at the end of the day, a choice will have to be made with regard to deleting something to make more space available. 

Some smartphones and tablets already make recommendations from time to time when storage is limited, suggesting little-used apps that can be deleted to free-up space. Otherwise, without some sort of app to help, finding where storage can be freed up is quite time intensive. Most devices provide a method within their settings that show which apps are hogging the storage. These are typically social media and messaging apps that keep local copies of images, videos and texts for quick recall. Here it is worth searching out apps that monitor the storage demands of such apps and provide a heads-up warning before storage issues occur.

For PC and laptop users, there are also a range of tools that can help. For Windows users, WinDirStat provides a simple visual view of which files are consuming the most space, colour coding common filetypes for images and videos for easy assessment. There are also versions available for Linux and iOS users. For those working with and editing large quantities of photos, duplicate files can become an issue over time. With large format single-lens reflex cameras becoming ever more affordable, each photo can run to tens of megabytes in size. Duplicate file finder apps help to locate images with the same content so that only one can actually be retained.

But are we actually backing up our files?
Despite more than one quarter of our responders claiming that backing up their digital life is difficult, almost nine in ten are actually backing their files up. This is great news and will ensure that most of us do not suffer heartache and despair when the digital devices, upon which we rely so much, fail us at a critical time.
For the 9% who have not developed an approach for backing up files, the solution could not be simpler. Masses of portable storage, in the form of external USB hard drives. Since the advent of USB 3.0, transfer of data to such devices has become blisteringly fast and today’s drives provide terabytes of capacity in stylish, slimline housings without the need for a separate power supply. Simply connect the drive to your laptop and copy your valuable files to the external drive as you would to an internal drive or folder. However, some drives, such as the Toshiba Canvio range, are also supplied with backup tools that makes life a lot easier (figure 2). The Toshiba Storage Backup Software provided with Canvio drives can be configured to automatically backup individual files or entire folders at a time of day convenient to the user.

Storage is one of those things that we only take time to think about when it is in short supply or has failed us in some way. But, if we take a step back, we would realise that it is an essential part of the fabric of society. Thanks to the participants in our survey, it seems that we are starting to get on top of digital storage, taking time to delete unwanted photos and videos. Backup solutions have also matured, allowing the general public to feel more confident and in control when backing up their important memories. For those not sure about keeping their private lives in the cloud, or wishing to maintain a local copy of important files, external hard drives are a great investment and, thanks to the software tools bundled with them, regular backups of files are simple to implement.