Save It Friday, Jan 17 2014 

My professional writing career began in 1972. It was a time long before computers and the internet. Research, writing, editing, and publishing was done entirely differently.

We typed on a typewriter with carbon paper for copies and white-out in hand to correct mistakes. Sections were literally cut from the paper, rearranged, and pasted or taped in the desired order and then retyped. When I wrote for the Tribune in the early 1990s, I had to take the stories I’d written at home and go into the Tribune to retype them into their system using specialized key strokes for spacing and returns.

I saved all of my research for these articles in paper files. Reclaiming the information was difficult without them. There was no internet to relocate people or organizations. And even when computers first came into public use, little room was available for storage.

I recently realized that, after all of these years, my old files could be tossed. But 40 plus years of writing and research makes for a lot of paper. I had several file cabinets and boxes that needed to be purged. I had to sift through the folders carefully, shredding sensitive information, and carefully selecting what little was still pertinent.

Today we are not collecting the paper records for home or business as we once did. We aren’t printing rolls of film, purchasing as many hardcopy CDs and books, or receiving paper bills. We are relying on the source, such as our credit card and utility companies, to maintain those records and Amazon and iTunes for our eBooks and music.

However, we manage most of our own personal records, photos, and music ourselves. The challenge is in organizing all the data we acquire and then deciding on the most reliable and secure form or storage. Should we trust the computer or phone alone or use CDs, external drives, or remote storage sites known as clouds?

I back up my phone to my computer and my computer to an external drive daily. We’ve all lost data due to a phone or computer crash. I recently had an internet modem that failed and caused my computer issues that had to be resolved by doing a complete restore, wiping out all of my records and software on the computer. And I’ve had external drives die as well. Recently, I sent files to a cloud but later when I was out-of-town and wanted to access them, all files were empty.

Nothing is fail-proof so saving to several formats is vital. It also is important to keep abreast of technology. It isn’t easy to retrieve information from floppy disks anymore. There will be times the data will have to be moved to another format before it is too late to do so.

As far as storing paper files, the US government website ( recommends keeping important items such as birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, passports, military service records, life insurance policies, and social security cards forever.

Their recommendations for less important records are as follows:

Bank statements – 1 year unless needed to support tax filings
Credit card records – until paid, unless needed to support tax filings
Home improvement records – as long as you own the property
Investment statements – shred monthly statements, keep annual statements until you sell the investments
Real estate deeds – as long as you own the property
Receipts for large purchases – as long as you own the item
Tax records – 7 years from filing date
Vehicle titles – as long as you own the vehicle
Will – until updated

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

The Empty Future Brain Monday, Mar 25 2013 

I finally tossed my college biology notebooks. Granted, I didn’t go to college after high school. I started after my youngest child entered preschool. But still, I haven’t opened those books in many, many years. Thumbing through the mega-binders of my own handwritten notes, I was impressed with how much I once knew. They were full of information and diagrams on cell structure and animal and plant life.

I received straight “A’s,” so I must have known the material at one time, “at one time” being key words. Most of the information in my notes is now totally unfamiliar to me. I wonder if it is all buried deep in my brain or completely vanished. How disappointing to recall so little of it.

In the 1970s comedian Don Novello played a character named Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live. He did a bit titled, “The Five Minute University.” He said that the average college graduate remembers about five minutes of information after five years of graduating, so that is all he teaches. His school is an alternative to spending tens of thousands of dollars in tuition on a wasted education that we will never recall or use. For $20 Father Sarducci provides the classes, a cap, gown, snacks, and photo. He even includes an Easter vacation where he turns on a  sun lamp and offers students a glass of orange juice. You can see this humorous take on college education in its entirety on YouTube.

To some extent, Father Sarducci is correct. We memorize so much information for tests and then quickly forget it. My father used to say that it was more important to know how to gather information than to retain it. Knowing where to go for the most current data is all that is required.

That statement is truer today than ever. With all of our technological tools we don’t need to remember much these days. All we have to do is use a calculator or search the Internet for the right people and sources to instantly get our answers.

I wonder if this ability is changing, or will change, the educational approach. If so, the empty brain of the future will have plenty of room for the gentleness and beauty of the arts and other understandings we lack as a society such as ethics, justice, and morality.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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