There was a time when the most pressing either/or question in our daily lives was the ubiquitous “Paper or plastic?”. That one seems to have sided pretty much with plastic and faded into the misty realm of obsolete questions. Never mind that the problem really won’t ever go away. The overuse of paper bags gobbles up trees, but nonbiodegradable plastic is no picnic for the environment either. The question of how writers should back up their work has a similar built-in conundrum.

Should we print everything out?

Should we hit Save?

Should we stop writing and run jibbering wildly into the night?

I’m still working on the first two, but I’m pretty sure the third one is not a real option. Except maybe during a rare blood moon eclipse combo event that’s not really all that rare at all!

Behind door number one we have the option of overheating printers, with reams of paper chugging through forests worth of trees. Paper jams and paper cuts wreak havoc on writerly nerves and nerve endings. Every draft, each proofreading pass…there goes another swath of precious green life. A doorstop becomes a slightly more refined logjam. We are surrounded by unwieldy stacks and teetering piles of what might have been. Piles and stacks that never end. Unless we give up writing for treehugging. Not gonna happen.

Door number two seems at first like the perfect solution. It’s all on the computer anyway. Why print any of it out? Ever? Well, except for the dwindling number of paper magazines that haven’t switched to digital submission systems. Those require some physical effort still, but a time will come when there won’t be any more hard copy subs. Then what? Why then we are free as the birds that used to sit on inviting leafy branches of the trees our printers gobble up. Hit Save to back up. Save again to be doubly sure you’re backed up. Reach half a foot for the flash drive you keep an arm’s reach away at all times. Um…what if that flash drive gets corrupted? Well, then you go get the one in your purse for the triple backup. Still worried? There’s the one in the bank vault you back up once a year. Quadruple backed up.  Whew!

All set.

Wait. You’re (Okay…I’m) prone to glitches.
So you back it (and by it I mean everything… notes, ideas, copy after copy of various levels of proofread copies, actual all done for the moment manuscripts, lists of your characters’ grandparents’ second cousins twice removed’s…spouses…) all up on a whopping terabyte of storage on an external harddrive…and have your best friend keep extra quadruple redundancy backups offsite, etched on a titanium ingot by a diamond laser thingy that hasn’t been invented yet, in their dragonproof stronghold.

Just in case.

And we haven’t even gotten to the dire threats, er, I mean, concerned warnings by everyone from real science experts, to junk science informed prognosticators, to ancient alien theorists on a slow day, about the dangers of EMPs. Why that pesky electro magnetic pulse potential will knock out all your electronics. Including digital…everything. Forever. Unless you store it in a Faraday cage.Dammit, I’m a science fiction writer, not a scientist. I’m about as likely to build a functional Faraday cage as I am to travel to Mars in a homemade spaceship.

Even if you somehow manage to construct a perfect Faraday cage that actually does the job, what good is your technology in a post apocalyptic brave new world…without electricity? Generators are not forever solutions. Even if they function for years, the gas supply would get awfully scarce.

Have we learned nothing from The Walking Dead, people? Except, of course, not to trust a megalomaniac with an eyepatch and a Goldilocks zombie in the crawlspace.

Having boundless imagination, but limited space, I’ve gone digital. I don’t even save paper copies of my screenplays. That’s why God gave us PDFs. Right? I certainly hope so. I haven’t moved to the cloud yet, but that seems to be where the future lies. Unless 3-D printing advances to the point where we can manage print out reforestation. And endless personal warehouses for prolific writers. Until then perfecting the everyman Faraday cage may be the key to answering the 21st century question of paper or silicon.