Adam Harrison Levy | Essays

Data Loss

Photo: Some rights reserved by alexbuiter on Flickr.

Three years ago I lost everything. My young daughter, my beloved dog, my close friends, even myself. This was not the result of a hurricane, a fire, or even Alzheimer’s. It was the result of data loss. 

My iPhone had been behaving erratically: stuttering when searching, blanking out, dropping calls (yes, I know, anthropomorphic language: these technologies are, to co-opt Marshall McLuhan, “extensions of ourselves.”).  Concerned, I looked up various self-diagnostic sites on the Internet like a worried parent checking strep symptoms on webMD. But I quickly gave up and made an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar. 

Such promise the Genius Bar holds! The name itself is genius with its savvy linguistic mixology of “genius” expertise with “bar” good times. In one stroke the crystallization of all customer service is achieved: expert knowledge combined with informality, a feeling that was amplified when I was helpfully checked in by a blue t-shirted employee who was sporting decorative facial hair and ironically geeky glasses. 

He carefully noted my iphone’s symptoms on his ipad, and asked me to wait. He was both maître de and admitting nurse. I wanted to ingratiate myself; he held the power of the list. Would he assign me a senior Genius or a newbie just off the sales floor? 

I sat and waited. I watched a young woman with a badly cracked ipad screen swiping at it feverishly as if in a trance; I watched a trembling Hasid scrolling on his laptop, mumbling about his hard drive; I pondered a man, around my age, who was staring forlornly into space, as if traumatized. I had joined the ranks of the technologically impaired. 

My turn came. I approached the bar and straddled the stool. No martini or single malt scotch for me: my desire was not for inebriation but clarification: what was going on with my phone? 

My Genius was attentive but she looked like she had spent the previous night clubbing. Diagnostics were performed, a flashlight was shone into the nether regions of my phone (to check for water damage) and detailed questions were asked. The diagnosis was swift: my operating system was years out of date.

Had I backed up recently? No. I never had. A gasp and a stare. This was one of my shameful life secrets: 3,0000 photos on my camera roll, two years of my life, and the daily dicey gamble of losing it all, probably stupidly, like dropping my phone down the toilet. Was the possibility of loss a way to undermine the (mostly) joyful moments that I had photographically enshrined? 

But I had my laptop with me; my Genius was not concerned. She’d sync them up, then take the phone into the back, where the technicians would wipe it clean. They would then install the newest operating system, and I’d be on my way.

Of course, it didn’t work out like that. The back-up went catastrophically wrong, which we discovered only after the phone had been wiped. It was a rare, one in million corruption, a glitch deep in the code. Once word of the problem got out, the other Genius’ cleared the bar and clustered around my laptop like crows over road kill. 

They fiercely pecked away at my laptop until the store manager was brought over and a message was sent to the troglodytes who inhabit the sub basement. These are the super hard-core techies who rarely venture out into the shiny world of glass and blonde wood above them. Tattooed and pierced and wearing wool hats over their shaven heads, they galumphed up the crystalline stairs and across the sales floor, a maverick platoon, intent on examining this rare corruption. They discoursed and jived and went on-line and tested and tried and theorized, but to no avail. My code, they all agreed, was fucked. 

There was one last option: Data Recovery. Apple would send my phone across the country, to a special location in California where data was often revived. The troglodytes spoke of this place with reverence: stories of computers and phones that had been shot at, dropped from planes, or otherwise destroyed but whose hard drives and motherboards had, under the skillful hands of these specialized technicians, yielded up their precious contents. 

The world, they told me, now produces as much data in two days as it did in all of history up until the year 2003. And the amount of data is doubling every two years. If anyone could recover my measly but precious three thousand images, and my two hundred and fifty contacts, it was this laboratory of retrieval. 

My phone was lovingly swaddled in bubble wrap. I was given a temporary replacement, and covertly offered a bottle of scotch, which I declined in favor of Xanax. 

Two days later I received a call from a throaty and sympathetic woman. She informed me that they had taken my phone into the “clean room” where the technicians had taken scrupulous care but were not able to retrieve the information. They did have a grief counselor on staff whom I could speak with (I was desperately in need, the impact of the loss had me doubled over in searing pain, and self-loathing was thundering through my brain). The grief counselor had been trained on a suicide hotline, I was told, which was re-assuring. I was put on hold. The sympathetic woman returned. She had bad news. The grief counselor had broken her toe and had to go to the ER. Was there anything else she could do?

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Technology

Comments [3]

Ugh, that intro and this article..... yes, we get it, the iPhone is God.

This article is everything wrong with New York design people. Living life through a screen.

Can the media please bow down more to tech? Pretty please?
Ed Nai

Exactly so. It has been known for decades that those who do not save keystrokes and backup images are condemned to lose them.

This is just a doofus getting what he asked for.... next time he may, may, may learn. But maybe not.

Once the needle goes in it never comes out.

It's always sad when this kind of thing happens. A friend of ours who does a lot of cash business selling freshly caught fish was robbed of $1500, but that bothered him so much less than losing his laptop which had pictures of his father taken shortly before he had died. I'm always pushing people to back up their gizmos. I'll often give a young friend a backup drive and a license for some backup program. I call it giving the gift of backup. Of course, the cloud has made it much better. Being a bit of a techie, I had to do last rites on a friend's basically kaput desktop. She was always taking great photos and sharing them. I gave her the bad news. You can bet I was relieved when she said not to worry, everything was safe on Picasa. I gave her a backup drive anyway.

P.S. No, the iPhone is not god, but it does serve as a photo album, camera, library, telephone, address book, reference library, diary, appointment calendar much much more to a lot of people. A friend of mine once said that in terms of losing one's past, four moves are equal to a house fire. On that scale, losing the data on one's smart phone is at least a couple of moves.

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