Twelve thousand, eight hundred thirty-seven sounds like a lot. That's how many photo files the data recovery guy magically, electronically, expensively extracted from my dead hard drive. Twelve thousand, eight hundred thirty-seven photos that covered eight years in the life and times of our family, including three baby boys, two first days of school and countless tiny memories, like the boys laughing and building a snow fort in the backyard on a warm winter day.
When the hard drive died, it was my fault. That sound it had been making was not good, and I did nothing about it. When I took it to the shop, I learned it would never work again. They could try to get the data back, but it might be gone forever.
It took nearly four months to get the answer. There was, apparently, a backlog of other nitwits who were too lazy or cheap to back up their precious memories. A hard drive to back up my data ahead of time would have cost less than $100. To recover that data once it was lost cost me nearly $800, proving that I had been pennywise and pound foolish. And further, it confirmed that I was a nitwit.
The emotional me is glad to have the pictures back. The analytical me has been running a cost-benefit analysis. Let's see, $800 divided by 12,837 photos equals about six cents per picture. Sounds pretty good, right? I'd pay a lot more than six cents for the first picture of all three boys together. But what about all the pictures of bison from Yellowstone National Park? Not a few. Nearly 100. Because, as my wife likes to say, "You never know which bison picture will be the right bison picture." Even if you found the perfect bison picture, which is questionable in my mind, that means 99 of them have zero value.
Then there's the question of future returns. Right now the pictures are certainly nice to have, but their value will grow over time. The boys are still young and our memories of tiny baby toes and first smiles are fresh. Those memories will fade, but the digital images won't.
Of course, it's good to be out of the doghouse. My wife, who had been imploring me to back up our data, was more than understanding when the drive crashed. Still, what's the value of having that black mark expunged from the husband file? Imagine all the times it would have come up. Three graduations. Three weddings. Every time someone showed us a picture of their baby. ... Could be worth every penny.
It's all hard to quantify, but in the end, I guess I'm glad we spent the money. Although it's not like I was thinking about the lost photos day and night during the four months they were gone, I am satisfied they're back. The kids are only young once, they grow up so fast, blah blah blah.
I will say this. I've certainly learned my lesson about backing up my data. It's essential. Although, I have to sheepishly admit, I haven't yet backed up our resurrected pictures. Right now, I'm waiting for a really good price on a drive. Maybe next month.
Steve Nelson, St. Paul, is program director for Minnesota Public Radio News.