10 May 2008

Electronic Eggs in Electronic Baskets

Remember day planners? Those books that so many people carried with them everywhere they went in the 1990s? They contain calendars, address books, notes, pockets for keeping slips of paper, whatever.

I really hated day planners. Not because of the product itself; rather, because it was so tempting to keep everything in one place. What's wrong with that? If you ever lost one, you know the answer to that question.

Me, personally, I never had a day planner. No way. Too great a loss potential. I carried around a small book that had some contact information and my daily schedule. I was a full-time journalist back then, and had interviews scheduled all day, or recording sessions, editing sessions, meeting with my boss, whatever. Too much information to trust to a single source.

Flash forward a few years to hand-held data devices. Same problem. People walk around with those mutant cellular telephones that also have capabilities for carrying calendar information, date books, notes, schedules, photograph libraries, etc. Again, problem. Why? If you ever lost one (or dropped it in the toilet) you know.

Me, personally, I prefer the most simple, basic cellular telephone. And I don't even carry it with me. I leave it at the house unless Matt and I are together, like on holiday. Not only do I not need to keep my daily schedule in a little computer box, I also don't want people calling me when I am driving, or sitting at lunch reading. Who needs all that constant interruption? Not me, thank you.

Now, fast forward a little more to this week. I was driving to work listening (as always) to National Public Radio and I heard a story about some state where they are trying to make it legal for counties to publish meeting minutes on the internet, rather than in the newspaper (which is the current requirement).

This got me thinking about the wealth of information which, pretty much, only resides in a series of binary 1's and 0's on a server somewhere between here and somewhere in India (probably). Does anyone have paper back up copies of this stuff? Does anyone even back up this stuff?

Then, my fertile mind racing in many directions, I thought that this would be the perfect terrorist plan: Wait a couple more years until no information exists on paper at all, then -- wham! -- send out a computer virus that wipes clean all those servers. What more could a terrorist ask for than a system that no one could access? No one would be able to call anyone else for help because their computer address books were hosed. No one could even look up how to help themselves because the computer files were gone.

Am I paranoid? Not at all. Paranoia is fearing something is going to happen when there is no evidence to support that fear. In this case, not only is there evidence, there have been many instances where websites have gone down because they are bombarded with phony requests for information (denial-of-service attacks), interruptions of service because of storms, or glitches, or even viruses. I personally had a case a couple years ago when a telephone trunk line to Sacramento was accidentally severed by a construction crew. We had no access to internet or email for a few days until it was repaired.

The moral of this entry? Don't put all your electronic eggs in one electronic basket. If that electronic basket should fall (or fail) then all your electronic eggs will be broken (or lost).

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