What It Feels Like to Lose 14,000 Photos and Digital Memories

Last Updated on September 29, 2023

The following story is a lesson about the importance of backing up data and securing multiple backups in different physical locations.

It all started on the morning of March 21st; the day after I returned home from Michigan. While getting ready for my Cognition class, my phone made a strange “beeeeep” noise. I looked over at my iPhone, confused as to what kind of a “notification” I had just heard. Unsure of what it was, I dismissed it.

While walking to class, my 64 gigabyte iPhone 6 started to behave strangely. I was attempting to open an app when the phone started to freeze up. It wasn’t until seconds before entering my classroom that my iPhone’s screen flashed, became purple and pixelated, and shut off.

I tried to boot it back up with no luck. The apple logo would appear, remain on the screen for several minutes longer than normal, and then the system would fail and go completely black.

“Well that can’t be good,” I said.

I tried everything. I charged the phone in hopes that it would turn on by itself. I let it sit until the battery surely died from standby time alone. My computer wouldn’t detect the device at all, not even when it was in recovery mode. I started to fear my iPhone was a lost cause. Except that was unacceptable. Before failing, my iPhone contained at least 14,000 photos and videos. As far as I was concerned, those were irreplaceable memories detailing most of my sophomore and junior years of college. Snapshots from every significant event I partook in from my 19th birthday onwards.

The thought of losing all of that data honestly brought me very close to tears. My texts, my contacts, my conversations, so many memories: gone forever. With no backup to rely on.

I had to get it back. SOMEHOW.

Over the course of the next 7 days, I had no functioning phone. In a way, this was an eye-opening experience. I was once again reminded of what it was like to live without a device in my pocket. I could no longer reach my parents if I needed them. The internet filled with answers to every question imaginable was taken away from me. I could no longer rely on my phone to serve as a portable camera. I felt disconnected from my boyfriend. I felt disconnected from everything. I actually had to rely on… myself.

During that week, coincidentally, there was a fire at my residence hall. Fortunately, it was mostly contained and no one lost any of their property. Thank goodness. As upset as I was about my phone, I had to remind myself that things could have been A LOT worse. I very easily could have lost much more than just data from my phone. I took a deep breath and exercised gratefulness.

Hanging onto my last bit of hope, I set up an appointment with Apple’s Genius Bar. Before returning home for Easter holiday, I drove straight to an Apple Store to meet with one of their supposed “Geniuses.” The person who assisted me basically looked at my phone, plugged it into a MacBook and said, “I’m sorry, Sir. It looks like you’re going to have to restore your device. And even then, it is questionable whether or not this phone will ever work again. There’s no way to recover the data from here unless you’ve previously backed it up.”

That was the sad problem with all of this. I HAVEN’T back up my device. Never. Not even once! I could not use iCloud to back up my phone because the data on my 64 Gigabyte iPhone FAR exceeded the allotted free 5GB of space they offer to everyone. I didn’t want to pay for more space so I didn’t use that service.

I never created an iTunes backup either because my MacBook still ran on their Snow Leopard operating system from 2010 which no longer supported the versions of iTunes required for compatibility with an iPhone 6. (What a gimmick that is to force users to upgrade…) I hadn’t upgraded my Mac’s operating system because I didn’t have a backup of my laptop and was afraid I’d lose MORE DATA the day I finally updated to the new Apple OS (currently called El Capitan). Plus, my laptop doesn’t have enough free memory to back up my phone anyway.

My laptop mantra was simple: If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As hopeless as I was, I COULDN’T bring myself to clicking “Restore” on my iPhone. I honestly considered buying a new phone with hopes that SOMEDAY some person just might find a way to get all of my lost data back from it. Maybe I could use one of my old phones in the meantime!

I went to my closet to grab an old phone of mine.

And there laid my LG Dare with a nice big crack on its back. The battery, of course, had exploded. Ooh, wonderful, I wonder what other data I’ve lost now from that old device!

I sucked it up, plugged in my external hard drive, and backed up my Mac with Time Machine so I could upgrade to El Capitan. My laptop updated overnight and everything seems to have gone smoothly. No detectable hiccups yet. The latest version of iTunes could finally be installed. Yay.

While doing some research, I came across a MIRACLE program called Wondershare by Dr. Fone.

This program contains a “Repair iOS to Normal” feature that claims to fix malfunctioning software. I had to put my phone into DFU mode which was kind of scary in-and-of-itself because the phone’s screen remains black in DFU mode so it relies on your ability to hit the physical buttons in a particular order to enter/exit this mode. I let it do its thing while I was celebrating Easter at my aunt’s house. When I returned home that night, much to my surprise, Wondershare successfully got my iPhone to TURN ON. YES!!!!!!

I IMMEDIATELY paid for iCloud and ran a backup. If I had only known that it costs merely a dollar or two per month, I would have paid for the service right from the beginning. Just to know everything is safe!

Now, it doesn’t quite end here.

Over the new few weeks, my phone continues to experience a number of problems.

-Many apps would crash upon opening.
-My phone required frequent re-activation.
-If the phone turned off, it wouldn’t turn back on. I’d have to repeat the process.
-The photos app would crash while restoring my 14,000+ photos and videos.
-My Apple Watch had to be restored and set up as new. Lost months of health data.

I finally gave up and formally restored my iPhone on iTunes last night. I kept getting “Error 27” whatever that means but I kept trying and eventually, the restore worked. I chose to recover my data from the most recent iCloud backup. So far, the phone is working much better than before but with a few random problems. (i.e. The screen flashed last night and asked me to reactivate the phone…) But for the most part, things are working as they should be.

The best part is that I only lost a little bit of data. Content I didn’t get back includes:

All of my text messages (very sad about this)
Notes that were only stored on my iPhone
Health data

But whatever. I got my photos back and they were my main concern.

To top this all off, after restoring my phone, it fell from my lap to the floor and my Apple earpod connection snapped off and got jammed in the headphone jack.

What a STRESSFUL last few weeks.

I’m mentally exhausted from all of these problems.


  1. Wow, I can’t imagine the stress on top of all the day to day stuff. We rely on these gadgets so much these day it is easy to overlook the simple rules of ownership. Glad you have managed to sort out most of the issues and retrieve the import things.
    I see more and more that the mighty Apple is getting some worms eating away inside it, too much, too clever, too up it’s own arse to see the obvious, not that I’m biased at all. hahaha.
    Bur well done for your perseverance anyway.

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The Rocky Safari