No one is going to argue that the future isn’t digital. Precious memories like photographs and home movies last forever in digital format and take up literally no space. It takes some getting used to when it comes to preserving, organizing, and sharing digital files, though. While it’s easier once you get used to it, wrapping your head around how these things work can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve got the low down on how digital files work.

 Physical Storage is Great — Until It Isn’t

Digital file storage is, by and large, so much easier than other storage methods. Digital storage means you can trade in those cabinets filled with bulky VHS tapes (or even worse, boxes with decaying 8mm or 16mm film reels!), for a few DVDs or flash drives. Organizing this physical media is often just as easy, a question of keeping them in a specific desk drawer or in a carefully labeled DVD album.

The amount of space you save in switching to digital file storage is a major win. The physical durability of digital storage devices is another feather in its cap. While fires, floods, and other truly catastrophic events will destroy flash drives and DVDs in the same way as everything else, digital storage devices can survive being left unattended for months or years.

But there’s one way that physical storage of digital files can fail you. Sharing anything stored on these devices requires you to have the device with you, not to mention a way to access that data wherever you’re going. This is less of an issue when you’re popping across town to show old home movies to the grandkids, but anything more than that and you’re best suited by using a cloud-based storage option.

When Cloud Storage Means More than the Weather

We’ve established that, while digital storage devices like flash drives and DVDs are relatively portable, they’re only useful to a point. Sure, you can drop a DVD into a padded envelope and send it down to your long-lost cousins across the country, but they’ve got to wait for it to be delivered in the mail before they can see the photos or movies stored on it — and that’s only if it doesn’t get mangled in the process!

An alternative to this is to store those digital files in the cloud and just send them electronically instead, which is as close to instantaneous as it gets. If the words “cloud storage” make your eyes glaze over, you’re not the only one. The concept seems strange and esoteric, but in actuality it’s not nearly as complex as you may think. When you get down to brass tacks, cloud storage is just what happens when you connect a physical digital storage device to the internet so you don’t have to lug it around with you everywhere.

A company that provides cloud storage, for example, doesn’t deal in black magic. They simply have a room somewhere with banks of computers connected to the internet. For a fee (often even for free), you can rent storage space on one of these computers to hold all your digital files. You send over your files using your computer or even your mobile device and now you’ve got a copy of those files, stored in a place where you (or anyone you want) can access them, as long as they have an internet connection.

As Close to Perfect As It Gets

There are some real advantages to using cloud storage for your digital files. The first, as we’ve already mentioned, is convenience. As long as your laptop, phone, or tablet has a Wi-Fi signal, you can gain access to your files from anywhere. You can also share these files with others however you like. An example of how this works is YouTube — you upload your video of your grandkids singing Christmas carols and YouTube lets you share it with your family.

Using cloud storage is also a great way to preserve your digital files in the event that your physical storage devices ever end up getting lost or damaged. Laptop hard drives can fail. Smartphones can end up getting accidentally dropped in the toilet. DVDs can be inadvertently snapped. Flash drives look suspiciously like chew toys to dogs. It’s good, therefore, to have a backup copy waiting for you in the cloud just in case.

Of course, there are still drawbacks to cloud-based storage. One is obvious, as it’s dependent on an internet connection in order to be accessible. This also creates opportunities for hackers to gain access to your data, though cloud storage companies take security very seriously as a result. The second drawback is that “the cloud” is really just someone else’s computer somewhere, and the physical device that your digital files are stored on is still just as susceptible to damage and theft as any computer, DVD, or flash drive in your own home. It’s obviously rare but it’s still a possibility you need to keep in mind.

The Belt and Suspenders Approach

So there’s the dilemma: physical storage in a DVD or a flash drive means you have the most control over your digital files, but you’re limited in your ability to share them quickly and conveniently. Cloud storage gives you that speed and convenience, but you give up some independence and risk things like inaccessibility or even complete loss due to internet outages or damaged servers.

If you don’t want this conundrum to keep you up at night, go for the old “belt and suspenders” approach. Store your digital files in the cloud while also keeping a physical backup. This does create a bit more work for you, especially if you have to update your backup copies from time to time. Yet what’s a little extra work for a lot of peace of mind? Add in the fact that you get to have your cake and eat it too and it’s really the best approach when it comes to digital file preservation, organization, and sharing.