End of the road for flash drives?

I may be the last person to buy a flash drive, and I may have bought my last one. Flash drives were the must-have accessory of the early 2000s as we began to need more storage space than we could get from the average CD. Tiny and reusable, they cost more than a blank CD but lasted forever. The nearly-indestructible little wonders were found everywhere from conventions to schools and libraries, as they allowed people to take important content from place to place.

I went out to buy a flash drive over the weekend, and it was a lot harder than I thought. Where once there was a wide selection in every store imaginable, I eventually found what I wanted tucked in at the bottom of a display, where one model sat all alone among blank CDs and other obsolete accessories. Flash drives, it would seem, are done.

You may ask why I even bother with such obsolete technology in the days where cloud storage is both ubiquitous and limitless. After all, pulling something down from the internet is much easier than remember to put something in your pocket.

Yeah, and no.

I use flash drives as a function of trust. If I don’t trust a computer, I put in a flash drive rather than put in my cloud storage credentials. Occasionally I need to get something printed at a local “office” type store and all the ones around here still use Windows XP and probably don’t even virus-scan their stuff. If a file is too big to email, I put it on a flash drive, then reformat that flash drive on a Linux PC before putting it the rotation again. Or, I just toss it out if it’s old and small. It’s not worth the risk.

I use flash drives for my router in order to turn it into an FTP server, and for my TV converter box to turn it into a DVR. I use them for permanent offline storage because they’re more durable than DVDs and a lot smaller.

I also use flash drives for very large files. Sometimes the stuff I do actually requires gigabytes and gigabytes of working files and it’s pretty time consuming putting that up to cloud storage and pulling it back down. With a relatively new flash drive that supports USB 3.0, it’s a lot faster.

I guess, though, I’ll have to start changing my plans. Flash drives have passed into that weird realm I call the “Rite-Aid zone.” I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this but if you really want to buy some obsolete accessory, they have it at the local drug store. They won’t have anything you really need, but if you still need a box of floppies you’ll find them there, at a huge markup. Flash drives are heading for the Rite-Aid zone pretty quickly, and that means I won’t really be able to afford them.

Another option, as strange as it sounds, is custom-made ones. I’ve found sites that offer custom-silk-screened flash drives for as little as $2 a piece. Maybe what I need to do is order 50 of them and call it a day. I’ll just call them disposable.

And, perhaps I’ll just have to find a way to work with cloud storage for transferring large files. Kind of a drag, but I guess it’s time to let go of flash drives. They’ve served us well for a generation, but every technology has an end. I just didn’t expect the end of flash drives… this week.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.