Home Digitization Project

One of my tasks this summer is digitizing all that is digitalizable in my apartment. Like anyone who lectures on media, I have for more than a decade argued that the ability to make something digital is one of the core pieces of technology that is part of the rapid social changes we are undergoing: our “digital revolution.” It is, perhaps, strange that I write this surrounded by several thousand books: ink on dead trees.

CDs and Tapes

The earliest step of this process, I completed many years ago: cutting my Audio CDs over to MP3s. For years, I kept the physical CDs around, as a backup in better audio quality. When I got rid of them, I kept the jackets, for lyrics and album art. But under the principle that not touching something for a year or more probably means you don’t need it, I finally got rid of them as well, years ago.

More recently, I’ve freed myself from all tape. I went through boxes of video cassettes and cut over anything I wanted to keep to my DVR. I did the same thing for some of the old audio cassettes my wife had collected, a recordings of her grandfather that had deteriorated on audio cassette.

The machines that supported these formats are also gone. I am gradually disassembling them, recycling the interesting bits into my “junk” files; consumer electronics from an era not so long ago when they contained lasers, electric motors, switches, knobs, and connectors.

Bills, Correspondence, Manuals

I am nearly through the next part of the process, working my way through several drawers of a file cabinet, scanning bills, letters, forms, receipts, various manuals, appraisals, health records, contracts, and the like. Incoming mail is now opened and either scanned or shredded. After some hunting, comparisons, and advice from others, I ended up getting a ScanSnap S510. It was an expensive purchase, but well worth the satisfaction of being able to drop in a document and have it quickly turned into a PDF on my hard drive, findable without taking up space.

The final step will be to scan the majority of my library. It took me some years to decide to do this, but I think that most of it will be scanned “destructively,” using this sheet-fed scanner. The result will be more space in my home office, which I’ll be sharing soon, but it will be strange to be without those pages around me.

Of course, I have already run into things that have a particular “aura,” that makes them especially difficult to part with. Anything hand-written to me by my partner, no matter how trivial, is impossible to throw away. And I don’t think things like my passport or birth certificate will do me much good in electronic form alone.

Services I Maybe Should Have Used

Some lessons learned? If I were to do this again, I might try a couple of services I now know about. I would use a service like Ship’N’Shred which will pick up a 30 lb box of paper and shred it for $30. Yes, I only paid a little more for my own shredder, but hand feeding paper into it and constantly emptying it is a pain. Obviously, I’ll shred my own stuff going forward, but for the massive one-time effort, it probably would have been easier to box it and send it off for shredding.

When I decided to cut my CDs over to MP3 many years ago, I sat in front of the computer feeding them in one-by-one. I was a starving student then, and a starving professor now, and don’t think I can shell out the $299 for a week’s rental of ripping machine that will transfer over a stack of CDs. Since a number of my CDs were imports, or strange, or both, and didn’t have CDDC, which apparently means their system wouldn’t work.

What about dealing with the incoming mail? For now, at least, it is not worth the $120 a year to get someone to do that processing for me, though that would be far more enticing if I were still nomadic. Being able to have a stable mailing address every time you move is almost worth it in itself.

I’ll write a bit more about this process, if I get the chance, detailing some of my decisions in scanning and some of the things I find out about during the process.

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