I’m a big believer in preservation. Why else would I bother digitizing and cataloging old cassettes few people care about or a radio show from the 1990s? Obviously, cultural preservation is important to me. Similarly, I think institutional preservation is in companies’, non-profits’, and schools’ best interests so that they have an accurate, complete, and accessible archive available.

But, perhaps more important than any of these is personal preservation.

Personal preservation isn’t about backing things up (wait–you are backing things up, right? Oh, next month when you’ve got some free time? No. NOW. To a hard drive, to the cloud, and maybe to a second cloud or hard drive that you keep at someone else’s house). Personal preservation is about saving what you create, capturing your thoughts for the future, documenting your legacy. It sounds like something only a philosopher or politician might need to bother with, but let me tell you: I’d give anything to read my great-great grandmother’s 1800s equivalent of a Facebook update, even if it was just about how she was “feeling annoyed” because washing machines hadn’t been invented yet.

We have a tough time, in the present, foreseeing what we or someone else might find interesting or useful in the future. We may think we have a grasp on it and trust ourselves to filter things out in real time, but as far as I’m concerned, if it’s something you deem worthy of posting to Twitter today, it’s worth hanging onto for the future. Even if it serves no purpose other than rounding out a more complete picture of who you were during 2016’s presidential election, that’s enough.

Here’s what you can do right now to get started…

  1. Set up a folder on your computer somewhere called “Backups – social media.” Make sure it’s one that gets backed up (see above). Bonus points if it exists in a Dropbox/OneDrive folder and is backed up to something like Crashplan or Backblaze.
  2. Under that folder, create one folder for each of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
  3. Periodically download backups for each of those services and store them here. Make sure the filename you save includes your name, the name of the service, and the export date in YYYY-MM-DD format (ie. facebook-ryan_macmichael-20160929.xml). Bonus points for doing this on a schedule (monthly or quarterly should be plenty).
  4. How do you download backups for different services? (Feel free to request others and I’ll add them here.)
    • Facebook: Account Settings -> Download a Copy of Your Facebook Data -> Start My Archive.
    • Twitter: Settings -> “Request Your Archive”
    • Instagram: Try Instaport.me
    • last.fm: last.fm doesn’t let you do it natively anymore, so use this tool.
    • LinkedIn: Use their data export page.
    • Flickr: Bulkr seems to be highly respected
    • Google: Google Takeout lets you download your entire Google life (including things like Blogger and YouTube) or select parts of it from one spot. Be forewarned that your backup could be pretty huge if you include your Google Photos.
    • Pinboard: Export.
    • Pinterest: Try Pinback.
    • … what did I miss?

What should you do with all this stuff? Just hang onto it. Maybe occasionally peek at it to see what’s there. Make something from it… think a yearbook of your Facebook posts or Instagram photos. Having a physical object of something digital isn’t a bad idea, really. Or, if you’re looking for an ambitious coding project, make a compiled timeline view of the data.

The main thing, though, is to make sure people know where it is. If something happens to you, make sure there are some people that can get to it and that they’ll care for it. This can be informal or you could spell it out in your will (or, more likely, a letter of instruction referenced in your will).

Not convinced? Remember this:

No one else is going to preserve you for you.

Sure, the Internet Archive will grab blog posts and assorted tweet archives exist, but what if your Twitter account is private? What about Facebook? What about services that exist only as (or primarily as) mobile apps? You need to take responsibility. Be your own archivist.