Life, like computers, requires a good backup system

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 2, 2008

Cochrane coffee companion Shelley Kerr has taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of backup systems. It started out with her computer crashing and ended up with a deeper understanding of friendship and our human need for each other.

Shelley is a small business owner-operator who depends on her laptop computer for her living. The data she carries on her hard drive is critically important, so she’s in the habit of backing up her data weekly.

That was not enough, however, when she was catching up on e-mail recently and her computer developed an attitude, ground to a halt, and refused to start up again.

Shelley had a new hard drive installed and began the tedious task of rebuilding her digital life, something that required over a week’s focused attention. She reloaded her operating system and other programs, and copied over her data from her backup drive.

But still there were some data she had not backed up and now wished she had. For this she needed to turn to others to whom she had previously e-mailed documents missing now from her own computer.

And across cyber space these others were there for her. They replied to her with copies of the missing documents, and she was able to recreate her system’s memories.

Shelley is not alone in her computer woes, of course. I can’t begin to tell you all the computer nightmare stories other coffee companions have shared with me. And yes, I’ve had my own, too. And even when it’s just one’s personal home computer that bites the dust – and especially when one never got around to backing up those treasured photographs, letters, etc., onto an external hard drive or CD – the loss can be distressing, to say the least.

But even then, one can follow Shelley’s example of networking with others to recover that seemingly lost-forever photo you shared with them. You reconnect with them and ask them to copy the photo back to you. In the computer age, human backup systems are indispensable. We need each other, a point well made in Anne Murray’s hit song, “You Needed Me.”

Which brings me back to Shelley’s story.

Partly through her own resources (her computer backup system) and partly through the network of human resources surrounding her, she was able to get her computer up and running again. But she’s learned to back up her important data every day, now, and not just once a week, she says. “I don’t neglect my backup any more.”

She’s also learned not to clutter up her computer with unnecessary programs and files – to keep her computer simple and working well so that it, in turn, can serve her well.

And this is where Shelley’s computer crash and recovery led her to reflect on larger, more personal issues of life.

Most of us go through crash periods in our day-to-day lives, she says. And try as we may, our own internal resources by themselves are not always up to the task of bringing us “back on line.”

She has a network of friends and family she can depend on during such times. One of her human backup team is like a backbone, reminding her of how strong she really is. Another is her “acidophilus,” she says, good bacteria to keep her system functioning well. A third friend is “vitamin D all the way.”

When she is nearly overwhelmed with issues and responsibilities, it is her personal backup team that is there for her as she takes stock and comes to terms with those parts of her life that need to be rebuilt, simplified or eliminated.

Just as she wants her computer to function well, so she has learned the importance of making sure she herself is functioning well, too.

And over the long haul, an essential part of caring for yourself, she says, is having that personal backup team of friends to whom you have entrusted memories of who you are, just as they have entrusted to you memories of who they are, so that when called upon, you are there to restore and affirm each other’s true identity and worth. This is an integral part of friendship, and like backing up a computer, it dare not be neglected.

As the saying goes, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.”

Just as a computer crash makes us appreciate a good backup system, Shelley says, so too, “sometimes you have to go through dark places to get to where the light is.” And that’s where one’s personal backup network of friends really shines.

Shelley’s advice to all of us, then, whether about computers or about our personal lives, boils down to just four words:

“Don’t neglect your backup!”

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page