Let’s say you’re really in a rush and need to use a computer. Stick with me. Maybe you’re a hacker loading some horrible malware onto a computer, or you’re a hacker stealing documents from a computer. Maybe there’s a big presentation coming up and you need to get it done and put it on a drive to give to the projectionist operating your slide deck. That’s a third plausible scenario I just thought of.
In all of these situations, you are using a USB drive. As we all know, USB is short for Universal Serial Bus. USB drives are also known as “flash drives” or “thumb drives” or “jump drives,” maybe it’s a “USB key,” or in Spider-verse parlance, a “goober.” They are small hard drives that connect to a computer’s USB ports. (Young readers who might be lost: Before “the cloud,” you needed one of these devices to move data from one computer to another. They still exist. Ask Siri or whatever. While you’re there, you might as well ask about floppy disks too.)
Computers have, historically, been very annoying about USB drives. Before undocking a drive, you should use the operating system to safely eject it. If you do not do this, and just rip the drive from the machine, the machine will yell at you. “You idiot!” the machine says. “If you keep doing that, I might delete all of your data!” Yet oddly enough, no person in the history of humankind has ever lost data from yanking a USB drive out of a computer before soft-ejecting it. This is 100 percent true and not hyperbole.
Beginning with recent versions of Windows 10, even Microsoft is ready to cop to this fact, as the Verge notes. In Windows, removable media can follow one of two “policies” dictated by the operating system. There is a “quick removal” policy, which “manages storage operations in a manner that keeps the device ready to remove at any time.” But you are probably more familiar with “better performance,” which boosts drive performance but demands that dreaded “Safely Remove Hardware” eject process. (This latter option applies to any external storage device, whether that’s a flash drive, a hard disk, or an ebook reader, for example.) “Better performance” was Windows’ default setting for years. It is now no longer the default.
Good! The safe-eject process is easily one of the most insignificant problems in computing, made significant by how often one might need to use a USB drive. What if the one time you don’t safely eject is the one time something goes catastrophically wrong? An entire pre-cloud generation of computer users, rendered anxious and fearful of data loss in exchange for saving five seconds. What a wretched system. I am glad it is dead — except on MacOS, where it continues to torment me.