We are used to shipping everything over the internet now, but for the past three decades the sneakernet – where data is exchanged over devices that have been delivered by hand still is an efficient way to move large amounts of data. What constituted a large amount of data has historically varied over time. I first started moving files around on 720KB and 1.44MB 31/2 inch floppy disks on my Mac and friend’s Atari ST machines in the early 1990s.
I used to get artwork, particularly photographic scans during the early part of my agency life on Iomega Zip disks that held between 100-250MB, but CD-R disks quickly eclipsed the proprietary disk format. Iomega hit back with the 750MB Zip cartridge and the expensive Jaz drive, but they missed the wave.
Apple encouraging us to ‘rip, mix, burn’ ushered in an era of large file storage on CD and DVD media. But there was niche for convenient fast file storage that didn’t require burning optical media and that was where the USB flash drive came into common usage in the early noughties.
I bought my first flash drive sometime in late 2003 – early 2004. Sony’s MICROVAULT was wrapped in a plastic case that mirrored the design language of the Viao computers at the time. Silver and violet plastic wrapping the technology.It had 256MB of memory, which meant that it was adequate for carting any documents I was currently working on or a couple of completed PowerPoint presentations.
Now every company seems to give away flash drives. They have become as ubiquitous as CD-ROMs were on the front of magazine cover-mounts and in direct mail shots during the late 1990s.
The flash drive was a liberating experience, files could be written in seconds and the devices were remarkable robust. I have had one for a few years on my key ring. You didn’t need to check and verify a disk. You could bring a presentation in your pocket instead of hiking with a laptop around to meetings.
There is no loading up Dropbox on a work computer or negotiating with IT for the admin rights. However, now I no longer use a Sony MICROVAULT. The speeds and feeds of flash drives quickly became commoditised as did the quality of the electronics once manufacturers worked out out the ins and outs of the products. Sony failed to keep up with innovation in product design and instead I use an Iamkey from LaCie, which has a playful design that is robust enough to stand being on my key fob along with all my household keys.
In comparison Sony’s MICROVAULT range looks like it could have rolled out of any factory in China and is probably a Sony in name only.