While standing in the checkout line today at the local Target store, my eyes zeroed in on the one high-tech device on the nearby rack. This is the display rack that contains all the “impulse items” that buyers might consider while waiting in the interminable check-out lines: bubble gum and candy for the kiddies, Hollywood movie magazines for the bored, and jump drives for the techies.
Yes, the local Target store is selling USB jump drives at the checkout stand. I have written before about these tiny devices, describing how convenient they are. USB jump drives or thumb drives, or memory sticks or whatever you care to call them are rapidly replacing floppy disks and CD-ROM disks as the media of choice for short term storage, say a year or less. Now Target is selling 32 megabyte jump drives for $3.99 each. At that price, I could find many uses.
For many years, I always carried a couple of blank floppy drives whenever I was traveling. I never knew when I might want to copy some files from my laptop and give them to someone or perhaps hand the blank floppies to someone else, have them copy files to the floppies, and then give them back to me. After all, each floppy disk stores up to 1.44 megabytes and each costs between fifty and seventy-five cents. That's cheap. A few years ago, every computer had a floppy disk drive, so that was the universal method of exchanging files.
As the years went by, I found floppies to be less and less practical. The files I wanted to exchange seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Eventually, I switched to carrying a couple of blank CD-ROM disks. Each blank CD could store up to about 660 megabytes, roughly 450 times the storage capacity of a single floppy disk. Blank CDs cost 40 or 50 cents each if purchased 100 or so at a time, then add in a few more pennies for a plastic carrying case. They certainly are more cost effective than floppies. Nowadays, most new computers are manufactured without floppy drives so CD-ROM disks seemed like a good method of exchanging files. .
What I found is that the CD-ROM disks are physically larger, so they are not quite as convenient to carry. I didn't always have one when I needed one. I also broke two or three of them carrying them around on my trips. The plastic cases and the CD-ROM disks themselves seemed to be more fragile than floppies. They both cracked easily. Sometimes I only had a damaged disk available when I needed to copy files.
As I stood in the checkout line today, it struck me that jump drives are now becoming the low-cost “portable, carrying-around media of choice.” The 32-megabyte jump drive stores the same amount of data as 22 floppy disks, although still only a fraction of a CD. However, I rarely need to copy more than 32 megabytes of data on the spur of the moment. The typical USB jump drive is tiny and very rugged. It is almost impossible to physically damage these things unless you run over them with an automobile.
At $3.99, the jump drive is still quite a bit more expensive than a CD disk, but I believe that this drawback is outweighed by the small size, the ruggedness, and the convenience. The next time I want to give someone a GEDCOM file or copies of all those pictures I took a minute ago with a digital camera, I'll reach into my backpack and grab one of these inexpensive drives. At that price, these devices are nearly disposable. I can afford to give away an occasional drive and its data to a friend.
As I stood in line, I grabbed five of these USB jump drives and added them to the shopping basket.