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Got Floppy Disks?

Natalia J. Garland

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Many computers, including all laptops, no longer have a built-in floppy disk drive. Floppy disks used to be the major device for storing or transferring data. Each disk (a 3.5-inch, plastic-encased device) could store 1.44 MB of information. That was more than enough for a school paper, business letters, staff meeting minutes, the annual budget, or a memo for your supervisor while you were on vacation. Floppy disks were sturdy and handy.

Floppies have become obsolete. Although they dominated the data storage market in the 1980's, their desirability began to wane in the 1990's as CD's, flash drives, and memory sticks offered more storage capacity for photographs, music files, and Power Point presentations. Even the Iomega Zip disks face extinction, but have managed to stay on the market because of their durability. Zip disks are similar to the floppy but thicker, and store 100 MB, 250 MB, or 750 MB of data (the 750 MB model is the equivalent of 521 floppies). Iomega also makes a 160 GB portable hard drive. Zip disks, however, require a removable drive to read the larger-sized disks, attached with a cable to the USB port. In fact, anyone who continues using the old floppy disks must also buy a special drive because most new computers no longer come factory-equipped with them. Oddly, on their official website, Iomega lists the floppy disk drive as one of their best-sellers.

What's my point? Technology is changing rapidly, even if we do not want or need all the changes. The old floppies were practical for students and teachers, and in small business offices. They could be distributed to staff. Floppies were not as susceptible to damage as CD's. They could be carried in a purse or pocket. Since all computers, in those days, had floppy disk drives, the disks could be used on any computer and files could be easily exchanged. If a disk was lost or misplaced, it was a matter of 1.44 MB of information as opposed to 1 to 16 GB on a flash drive. Flash drives, since they operate as a drive apart from the computer's hard drive, can also be used on any computer. However, I just don't feel secure walking around with 1 GB of my personal work. And, I have no desire to attach a flash drive to my keychain or to wear it like a necklace.

During the process of writing this essay, I found a 2-GB flash drive on sale and I bought it out of curiosity. Yes, it came with a lanyard so I can wear it around my neck. It is no bigger than a tube of lipstick and easily gets lost in my briefcase. In fact, I think I will buy a small makeup bag to put it in. That way, I can protect it and also quickly locate it. Anyway, it is a convenient device and a new necessity now that computers are no longer factory-equipped with floppy drives. Among today's students, the flash drive is the only type of storage they have ever known. They should not become too attached to the flash drive concept, however, because they will probably witness technological changes between starting high school and finishing college.

My introduction to technology began when I bought a word processor....oh, somewhere around 1990. Word processors were an advanced form of the electric typewriter. Mine had an LCD window which displayed part of the typed material. Additionally, there were innovations such as the ability to delete words and sentences, to copy and paste, and to save documents. The word processor required a ribbon; but all you had to do was to insert a sheet of paper, press the print button, and the machine magically printed the material all by itself. For those of us who grew up with the manual typewriter, carbon paper, and erasers with a brush on the opposite end, the word processor seemed like the height of sophistication.

Even after I bought my first computer, I still preferred to type papers and letters on my word processor. The word processor did not require a printer. So, there was no such thing as a paper jam. Its ribbon replacements were much cheaper than the ink cartridges needed for my printer. This is what I mean when I say that not all technological advancements are welcomed by all people. The word processor was a nifty improvement for writers. It served two purposes: to type and print written documents. Not everybody wants to show photographs or play games. While I have owned two computers, the first of which was defective, my Brother word processor continues to perform perfectly. I can still buy ribbons for it, but the storage disks seem no longer available (the disks were similar to a floppy, but were designed to be read only by a word processor).

Of course, I use my computer constantly, especially to access the internet. Without my computer, I would not be able to use an H.T.M.L. editor and to upload my web pages to the internet. When I bought my first computer in 2000, I played a lot of games. It was a new and fascinating experience. But it was a phase. Now, I only occasionally play a game for relaxation. I do not display photographs on my computer because I do not have a digital camera. I am still happy with my old 35mm camera, and I do not mind taking my film to the drugstore to get it developed. I have owned only one printer, and it does not print any faster than my antiquated word processor.

The problem with rapid advancements is that some good things become obsolete. Technology should be personal. People should have choices regarding what works best for them, what they are comfortable with, and how much money they want to spend. Yes, someday I will buy a better printer (I'm starting to look at multi-function units) and a digital camera. I get closer to the digital camera as the megapixels increase and the picture quality improves. However, if I wait long enough, perhaps digital cameras will become obsolete and then I could be the first to buy the next new product.

Does anyone remember when the handheld, personal organizers (PDA's) were introduced to the techie market? They were palm-sized, which was remarkable because it seemed like nothing could get smaller than a laptop computer. They were held in one hand, and navigated with the other hand by use of a thin stylus. And, they were outrageously expensive. There were, however, inexpensive alternatives manufactured by companies such as Sharp and Royal. The difference was that these organizers had a qwerty keyboard as opposed to the fashionable stylus, and were powered by regular AA batteries instead of lithium batteries. The small qwerty keyboard required the owner to 'thumb it' which seemed gauche compared to users of the dainty stylus.

The irony is that as cell phones became increasingly popular, 'thumbing it' seemed to become acceptable office behavior. Cell phones were always navigated by use of the numbered buttons. As organizers and other systems meshed into smartphones, such as the Blackberry and the Treo, the qwerty keyboard re-appeared as though it were innovative. I bought a Sharp Wizard....oh, somewhere around 1997. It is the only organizer I have ever owned and I am still 'thumbing' away. It turned out to be a wise and economical purchase.

If only I could say the same about my floppy disks. I just bought a package of 25 at an outlet store--for $1.00, probably because they are a discontinued item. And, they are not the typical beige or black floppy disks. They are the pretty colored ones: red, blue, green, and yellow. Since my current laptop, purchased in 2003, came equipped with a floppy disk drive, I can use these disks according to my storage needs and preferences. I may not be up-to-date with all the latest advances, but I am able to function smoothly. My goal is not to buy every technological item, but to own those which further my desire to learn and to write. Now, excuse me while I send a back-up copy of this essay to my Zip-100 (which holds my entire website, plus all my downloaded research articles, and has space left over).

[NOTE: This essay is based on personal preference and is not intended to serve as a customer review. The author is not a computer expert, and neither recommends nor discourages use of the above products or any products not mentioned. The author lacks experience with many technological products and, therefore, the above comparisons have no validity.] (Written 06/16/08)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland