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Trusting your life to digital – am I paranoid?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
8 October 2009

marvin_the_paranoid_androidAs a general rule, I’m a big fan of change – especially online. I like to think that I’m a reasonably ‘early adopter’ – I’m not obsessive about it, but I am (for instance) a little jealous that I haven’t got a Google Wave invite yet. I like to know what the interesting new sites and services people are using are – that’s one of the main reasons I use Twitter, come to think of it.

I’m also a big fan of the possibilities offered by sites like Spotify, Flickr, YouTube (or more often in my case, Vimeo) and their contemporaries. Being able to store my entire photo collection (or at least the ones that are good enough to share) on Flickr is a massive draw for me. And not just for the ease-of-sharing either – last year when my back-up hard-drive crashed, I was able to rescue quite a few precious photos from my Flickr account (in hi-res) that I would have otherwise lost.

But recently, I’ve been feeling myself getting a little more paranoid about trusting these sites completely. Maybe it’s my age (I recently turned 30 – though you wouldn’t know it, ha ha) – but I’m definitely feeling a lit distrustful of putting all my eggs in an online basket.

spotify-logoThe incident that started me thinking about all of this was a couple of weeks ago, with Spotify. To give you a little background, I’ve been using Spotify for a few months now, and generally like it a lot. As a music-lover, I’ve pretty much ditched my CD collection completely now, having spent one particularly quiet winter copying all my CDs on to MP3. I like the freedom this gives me – though I have had issues on occassion, especially with my iTunes purchases. But generally speaking, I feel quite comfortable having all my music in digital format. But one thing I’ve noticed while using iTunes for the past few years is that it makes it very easy to lose track of your favourite music, especially when your collection consists of several hundred albums.

cd-borkedIn the old days, the albums I play on a regular basis would sit on top of my stereo, or strewn close by – but a quick flick through my CD shelf would allow me to re-acquaint myself with other, less-listened-to artists. This isn’t quite so easy with iTunes, but there are ways to get around it – so long as I trust that iTunes still has all the music I put in to it, I should never lose track.

I should also point out at this juncture that my memory can be a little flaky – particularly for less-important details. I’m usually pretty useless at those games where an item is remove from a tray and you have to guess what it is – and subsequently, I often lend DVDs to people and then forget that they’re missing. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

ghetto-blasterSo I’ve been using Spotify, and have been mulling over whether it’s a viable alternative to iTunes for me. The obvious follows-you-around benefit is massive – being able to access the same playlist at work as at home is really great, and not having to organise thousands and thousands of files is a real pleasure.

But a couple of weeks ago I realised something I hadn’t really thought about before – Spotify have a habit of removing music from their library without telling you. I’ve had the Elbow “Seldom seen Kid” album on one of my playlists for a while, but last week realised that it hadn’t played for a while. After a quick search, I realised that Spotify had removed the album – and if I hadn’t noticed this though a strange coincidence, I may never have spotted it. I know I’m probably being a bit niaive here, but this felt a little bit like somebody had snuck in to my living room and stolen one of my CDs – and they’d taken the care to rearrange the shelf too, so that I’d never notice!

As a result of this revelation, I started to get a little paranoid. What if Flickr start randomly deleting my photos without telling me? Or Facebook start deleting my contacts without me noticing? Am I putting too much trust in the digital world?

simpsonsDon’t get me wrong – I’m not quite worried enough yet to go out and buy all my old CDs again, or starting printing my photos off and putting them in photo albums. But it’s definitely made me think twice about how much trust I put in third-party services that don’t have any obligation to tell me what they do with my content. Maybe I’m being crazy?

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