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May 27, 2022

(+) Digitize Your Life

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

One of my ongoing projects involves digitizing most every document that I may possibly need in the future and then having it available at my fingertips at any time. You might consider doing the same. Today’s technology makes it simple to have all your required documents available whenever and wherever you need them.

For instance, I had a doctor’s appointment recently, and the doctor asked what medications I was taking. The problem is that I have difficulty remembering names of medicines that look like a mumbo-jumbo collection of random letters. I can’t remember the names. Instead, I grabbed my ”smartphone,” touched an icon for my notes program, entered “prescriptions,” and then touched SEARCH. A second or two later, a list of my prescribed medications appeared on the screen of the cell phone, which I was able to show to the doctor. Total time elapsed: about twenty seconds. That’s not bad considering I was in the doctor’s office at the time. It wasn’t practical to go home and retrieve a list of medications.

If the doctor wanted a copy for his records, I could display the list on the smartphone’s screen, press SHARE, select EMAIL, and then send it to the doctor’s office’s email address. That’s easier, faster, and produces better results than making photocopies! If the doctor wants a hard copy, he can print out the email message. Luckily, my doctor runs a paperless office; he doesn’t save any paper. Everything in his office is digital. I like that doctor!

I have also written several times about my ongoing efforts to digitize most all the genealogy books and magazines in my collection. Indeed, I am not limiting this to genealogy material; I am attempting to digitize most everything I might need ever again: receipts from both online and offline purchases, birth certificates, maintenance schedules for the automobiles, insurance policies, the user’s manual for the refrigerator, my appointment book, my address book, my driver’s license, my ham radio license, my pilot’s license, a scanned image of my passport (encrypted before being stored), lists of URLs (addresses) for web sites of interest, family photographs, insurance policy information, an encrypted list of all my credit cards with the card numbers, expiration dates, and the toll-free numbers shown on the back of each card, eyeglasses prescription, and most all other pieces of paper that arrive in the mail, except for the advertisements. Actually, I have even been known to scan an advertisement or two in cases where I wanted to keep the information.

I even scan my incoming bills although I don’t receive many of those in the mail anymore. Almost all my bills now arrive by email and, of course, I save those as well.

A few years ago, when a winter ice storm caused a tree branch to fall onto the brand-new fence that had been installed at home a few months earlier, I quickly snapped some pictures with my cell phone’s camera and filed those pictures in my documents folder. When filing an insurance claim (which I also scanned), I printed the pictures and included them with the claim. I also saved a digital copy of the entire insurance claim, including the pictures. As the old saying states, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Those were words I didn’t have to write on the insurance claim; the pictures show everything.

Some years ago, I placed a motor home in storage for a couple of months. The clerk at the storage facility asked for a copy of my motor home insurance policy. I normally wouldn’t be carrying insurance policies with me everywhere I go but in this case I did have an electronic copy of every insurance policy in my private area “in the cloud.” I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket, retrieved the images of the insurance policy from the cloud, and asked the clerk, “What’s your email address?” He told me and I sent the document to his address, again with my cell phone. Within seconds, he had a copy of the insurance policy in his in-box and he could print it, if he wished to do so. Total elapsed time? About a minute or so.

I find multiple reasons for scanning receipts. First, it’s always nice to have receipts available at your fingertips in case there is a question about payment. Even more important, having these documents quickly available greatly simplifies the preparation of income taxes every year.

By the way, the Internal Revenue Service now PREFERS digital images or receipts and of income tax forms. The IRS doesn’t have room for millions of filing cabinets to save all that paper! If you do supply all your info on paper, do you know what the IRS does with it? Yes, the IRS employees scan everything and then either return the paper to you (if you are at an audit in the same room as the IRS employee) or else the IRS employee throws your paper away!

Storing thousands of documents requires a bit of disk space. Luckily, that space is now cheap. One-terabyte disk drives now sell for under $50. This project would have been impossible 20 years ago. It would have been difficult and expensive 5 years ago. Yet it is easy and inexpensive today. Even better, I also store duplicate copies of all the same files “in the cloud” in a highly-secure manner plus additional backups on a local hard drive connect to my computer’s USB port. In fact, the documents stored “in the cloud” are probably more secure than the copies kept on my computer’s hard drive.

Credit card numbers, bank account information, my driver’s license, my passport, and more are all strongly encrypted before being stored, even if stored in my computer’s hard drive. Even the employees of the cloud-based file storage services cannot read my more sensitive files. Only I have access to the encrypted information. That’s a lot more secure than trying to save printed documents!

If my local hard drive ever crashes, I have multiple backup copies. In addition, the cloud-based copies are available wherever I am, as long as I have a data connection available on my cell phone, tablet computer, or laptop computer. I now have instant access to tens of thousands of documents wherever I am, even documents I saved 10 or 15 years ago. Just try to do something similar with paper documents!

To make the process work easily and effectively, I also need software that stores the various documents and retrieves them quickly when needed, wherever I am. That software must be able to store and retrieve images as well as text, and do so quickly. Being able to retrieve information when at home is nice, but I find it much more important to be able to retrieve the same information when I am at a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office, the auto mechanic’s, or the accountant’s office. In fact, I also often retrieve information when standing in the aisle of a retail store. I even keep my grocery list in digital format and can retrieve it at any time, whether in a grocery store or elsewhere.

The process is simple. 

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