Message in a bottle
Journalist John Markoff recently reported on a potential breakthrough in storage technology that could make it possible to store all the world’s data on synthetic DNA. It would fit in 12 wine bottles.
The Library of Congress holds more than 160 million items in 470 languages stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves: works of literature, scientific data, presidential papers, sheet music, rare manuscripts and maps…there are so many things worth preserving and archiving.
But there are even more that are not: grocery lists, casual emails and text messages, social media posts, telephone conversations, memos, homework assignments, doodles…Think about what it takes to store all the content produced by a single person in one year!
Digital is different
While we must file away important documents in a safe place—a signed original, for example—we do not want multiple digital copies stored indefinitely elsewhere. Yet that is precisely what happens when we share content using email and many file-sharing services.
Often, we cannot take the steps we’d like to protect sensitive information: deleting a file after it’s delivered digitally isn’t always the same as shredding its physical equivalent. In many cases, once we’ve sent it, its fate is out of our control.
And then there’s all of the not-worth-saving stuff that clutters our digital lives.
We’ve become digital hoarders
In transitioning to the digital world, we have failed to apply the same selectivity that drives our behavior in sorting through our physical materials. When was the last time you culled outdated files from your computer or old messages from your inbox? If we were to retain every piece of paper that passes through our lives, we’d be buried in it.
Here are 5 distinctly un-storage-worthy kinds of digital content.
1. Every photo ever taken
Today’s mobile phones produce fantastic, high-quality images and it’s very tempting to tap the screen. So much easier than working with manual focus cameras, cellulose film, the developing process, and leather-bound albums.
There’s a powerful impulse to capture a scene, a moment, a memorable event, to create a visual reminder, to save ourselves the time and effort of writing something down. Few of us enjoy the task of selecting, deleting, transferring, and uploading these digital images. But just because we can keep all of this stuff, doesn’t mean we should.
2. Casual communications
R u home yet? We need more milk. Are we still on for 1?
Once uttered, these exchanges lose all of their value. Digital advertisers might want to know that you have run out of milk or where you are at 1:00. But what further value do the messages bring you?
3. Time-sensitive content
A coupon expires after a certain date, a reminder is pointless after the fact, an invitation no longer needed following an event. Keeping these around wastes energy and space.
4. Confidential material
The convenience of electronic delivery is one of the great universal upsides of information technology. Just don’t forget the downsides: data breaches, identity fraud, lack of privacy control. When you email a copy of your 1099 to your accountant, or SMS a password to your spouse, you usually lose the ability to “shred” these digitally.
5. Private information
Who hasn’t expressed a private thought in an email to a friend? Maybe we’ve disclosed things that we’d prefer to be forgotten. The spoken word is ephemeral and more easily left behind. Our digital trifles follow us around.
We need to be more discerning with our digital content, to distinguish what we share by its intended lifespan and its vulnerability once it leaves our fingertips.
For neverlasting content, there’s always bitpuf.
Photo credit: dolphfyn / Fotolia