The Digital Midden
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to upgrade my two main computers to new hardware and new operating systems. In the past, such upgrades always reduce productivity because not all my programs survive the move. Can I do better this time?
Maybe, but what has become abundantly clear is that there is no loss of data. As I look for things to transfer, I find far too many files over twenty years old! Not a problem of storage, but definitely a problem to determine if they have value or utility.
Only rarely does a file name (regardless of length) tell me what I need to know to evaluate its importance. File names lack any context of their origin, and human memory is of little help.
Storage capacity has grown exponentially; we think nothing of saving everything. I save every email (and attachment) I read and send. I’ve done this since I began email some 25 years ago.
I have multiple copies of every paper I’ve written, from draft to final presentation or publication. I do the same for all my websites and blogs, whose Internet presence I can only estimate in the neighborhood of three million words. Or maybe four.
My data is important so it’s backed up on two hard drives. But what about all the programs I don’t use? And uninstalled programs? Why keep multiple upgrades for any program?
I’ve put lots of time into organizing data and programs over the years, yet much of it is still obscure. It’s easier to keep the files than to take the time to decide if they should be saved or not.
When you have what feels like an infinite warehouse (about 5 terabytes) that could fit on a single desk, when you can search for any file in minutes, you tend to let things accumulate.
Will the archeologists of the future dig down into the layers of our digital middens? Will they care? Or will all these bits end up being unexplored substrata for future civilizations to build on?