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It's the Bits

By Steve Jones,

Being Digital This editorial was originally published on Mar 3, 2008. It is being re-run as Steve is traveling.

Years ago I read Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte and while I enjoyed the book, there was one very interesting story in there. Dr. Negroponte was crossing the border from the US to Canada and customs stopped him, checked his computer, and asked what the value was. He responded with "$2,000,000", which is a lot of money. The customs person seemed taken aback and had expected some sort of value closer to $2000-5000. He responded that the bits inside, meaning his writings and other data, were way more valuable than the hardware.

That's how I feel about my laptop and why I love my 1GB and 2GB flash drives. I rarely travel, but I back up my documents, which are mostly text documents, before I go and keep the flash drive separate from my laptop in case of problems. I can always buy a new laptop if I need it, but I can't easily replace the data.

Some of you might have seen this article where a woman is suing Best Buy for US$54M because they lied about her stolen laptop and deceived her. Now I think this is an outrageous amount and it's like the woman that received millions from McDonalds for being burned by their coffee. both ladies deserve compensation, but it should be in line with what happened. You can make the point without suing for an outrageous amount. Even $1M would make the point, and that would be too high. Sue them for $100,001 if you want attention. That might be more in line with the cover up that occurred.

This really brings to mind two different things to me. First, keep good backups of your important data. I try to organize my stuff into a few areas and then get that to fit onto media that I can physically separate from my first machine. My wife used to go so far as to keep a 2nd laptop hard drive in her suitcase that contained copies of everything. That way if her laptop was stolen or damaged, she should plug the second drive in another laptop and be off and running.

It's easy to think of the physical device as being valuable, but I think for most of us the digital information inside is way more valuable than the hardware. And I think this is a trend that will continue over time, with the bits value dwarfing the electronics.

And if you haven't backed up your data recently, you might want to stop and make a quick copy of the important stuff.

Steve Jones


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