How to digitize my life?
December 17, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Digitizing just about everything: anyone done it before? Pitfalls?

I'm in the process of simplifying my life (although it seems more complicated in the doing than I thought), and I'm in the middle of digitizing everything.

I've downloaded all the books I can to my Kindle/iPad and got rid of the hard copies (given to charity shop); I've scanned in some easy-to-rip apart books that I want to read again and put those on my iPad (as a pdf); I'm now in the process of ripping all my CDs to iTunes.

What concerns me most are important documents like birth certificate, mortgage details, insurance papers, etc. I'm thinking of scanning them in but keeping the originals in a safe place. Has anyone ever got rid of the originals, and if so, has it been OK so far?

I am also wondering what the tax position is in the UK with scanned receipts as opposed to the hard copies. I am a freelancer, and I wonder if scanned receipts are deemed acceptable or too open to fraud.

Any advice, tips, or warnings?
posted by stenoboy to Technology (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Do not get rid of hard copies when it comes to birth certificates, mortgage records and the like (and I say that as a fellow digitize-everything enthusiast). The tiny amount of space saved is not worth the (high) risk that you'll need and not have them.
posted by kalapierson at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

As for physical labor such as ripping CDs and hand-scanning books, check whether it's worth it to outsource the labor (for example, there are fee-based services in the U.S., and hopefully at least one in the UK, that will accept your CDs in bulk and send you mp3s).
posted by kalapierson at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Digitizing is super time consuming, especially if you have a lot. (As you probably know now.)

My advice is to
1. Put everything in the least compressed format that you can.
2. Have a cloud-based backup.
3. Consider outsourcing. (Pay a neighborhood kid to rip the CDs, for example.)
posted by k8t at 10:31 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing retaining hard copies whenever possible. And keep multiple digital backups. Hard drives crash, optical media decays, bits spontaneously flip, technology and file formats become obsolete... digital media is extremely fragile. Anything you want to keep indefinitely, you need at least three copies of and a rigorously followed schedule of refreshing the data by copying it to new media.
posted by Devoidoid at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Digitization is a way to make things easier to use; but presents you with difficulties for long-term storage.

Digitization is an access strategy.
Digitization is not a preservation strategy.

If it's something you need to keep long term, digitize for ease of use and save the original.
If it's something you only need to see and use for a short time, digitize and shred away.

In short, digitize anything you want to use, but don't destroy anything you want to keep.

It's easy to say "oh, just duplicate and migrate and back up" but if you want to keep this stuff long term you are committing to a lifetime of active shepherding of this data.

For example, I have my grandparents' emigration papers in the same folder they put them in years ago, but my college writing is stuck on little floppy disks.
posted by gyusan at 11:43 AM on December 17, 2011 [16 favorites]

It's easy to say "oh, just duplicate and migrate and back up" but if you want to keep this stuff long term you are committing to a lifetime of active shepherding of this data.

I've got a stack of 25+ DVD's stacked on top my current server waiting for me to untangle doing a DAR restore of my old (dead back in '03) server onto it so I can have access to the 80% of my music I only have in MP3 - The rest I have in a binder, except for the two or three disks I've got in the car. Guess which I've listened to more in the last three years?
posted by Orb2069 at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2011

Just wanted to say that I work as a media archivist and gyusan is completely right.

Also, cloud storage: Dropbox has saved me from quite a few corrupt-hard-drive-day-of-deadline type disasters.
posted by dumdidumdum at 1:27 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I generally try and scan all important documents (passports, tax statements, birth certificates etc) but only for easy access and reference. Its easier to find information but you still need the hard-copies of all these documents. Can you imagine trying to enter a country based on the scan of 'your' passport on a computer?

You need hard-copies of all that stuff - because generally the only time you need them is to show imigration / the Tax office / the bank etc.. and they will definately want to see the original document.
posted by mary8nne at 3:21 PM on December 17, 2011

You need a plan for document retention, as well as document retirement/discard. Even in digital form, don't keep stuff you don't need.
posted by theora55 at 4:30 PM on December 17, 2011

I am a huge fan of scanning and digitizing things as well (granted, I love my books , cd and vinyl collection). Backing everything up is something to consider. For everything you back, up have two additional backups. You can never have enough copies. Second, I dont recommend DVDs or CDs, they have failed me more than once, remember burnable media is coated with an organic medium, and it will degrade. Also think of the treasuetrove of personal data, it should be encrypted as well.
somethings you just have to keep. A fireproof safe is great for important documents.
posted by handbanana at 7:10 PM on December 17, 2011

since all the other answers here are great, i'll fill in a gap:

go with a scansnap (very flexible, works with many systems of organization), not the neatdesk (completely inflexible, proprietary, poorly supported, and buggy).
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2011

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