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And I’ve been burned by electronic documents before. Back in the 1990s, I scanned a lot of articles with a low-quality 200-dots-per-inch scanner and stored them in Visioneer’s proprietary “Max” format. I’m glad I didn’t throw away the originals; recently, I rescanned them all.

But things are different now. Scanners create high-quality images in file formats that are open and widely implemented. For the past two years, I’ve been scanning my papers and throwing away the originals – and I feel good about doing that. On many occasions I’ve had to go back and look things up in my digital files. Documents were easier to find, and once I found them, I could send them off by e-mail.

One of the best reasons for committing to digital storage addresses one of the biggest fears people have about it: the question of whether you’ll regret, in 20 years, having taken the plunge. If we look at the trend in all of the things that we get and store – correspondence, music, photography – what we see is that more and more of what is coming at us is digital on arrival. Do you really expect to get your home heating bill by regular mail in 10 years? Maybe. But by committing to a uniform storage system for all of our personal documents, even if it means, for the moment, having to convert a few hard copies every month to digital files, we are simply giving ourselves a head start on building a single, comprehensive personal library, one whose chief benefit is that it can never burn down.

Fujitsu ScanSnap FI-5110EOX2 Color Duplex Scanner

Abbyy FineReader 8.0 Professional

Abbyy PDF Transformer

Simson Garfinkel is a postgraduate fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Research on Computation and Society.

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