In the physical world, we write a note to ourselves and eventually bin it. Back in the day, we created physical drafts of documents. These drafts would eventually get binned as well. If we stockpiled all the notes and drafts, we would run out of space to store them. However, in the digital world, we inexorably keep everything—regardless of its significance or worth. We have applications that can automatically retain every version of every document in its system. And if we don’t have an application to do it for us, we have our own cunning and adroit ways of accomplishing such tasks: “budget_2012 – v1.xlsx”, “budget_2012 — (Michaels Version).xlsx”, “budget_2012 — finaldonoteverdelete.xlsx”, etc. etc. In my previous posting, I gave an example of this with my “Birth of a Presentation.” This practice or pension of keeping every scrap of electronic data along with man’s drive to invent new ways and places for us to create data is causing unprecedented explosion of data in our digital world.
Why have we become a society of digital pack-rats (hoarders?) Do you realise that I still have my email box from the company I left in 2000?! Earlier this year I was going through security at the Vienna airport and sent my backpack through the x-ray machine. I got held up and asked to re-scan my backpack because I had “too much electronics” – I had over 2TB of storage in the form of various thumb drives and USB drives and it took me three trips through to find them all! Madness.
Why are we doing this? Maybe it is because digital information (aka ESI or Electronically Stored Information)—and lots of it—can be packed into so many cool little devices – see above. Maybe it’s because like that old shirt in the closet that hasn’t been worn for 8 years, one day, in some post-apocalyptic society like Mad Max when goods and knowledge will be scarce, we feel we’ll need this information. Indeed, when I am scouring the barren landscape for food with my painted face, on my cobbled desert-storming vehicle with my rag tag tribe, I may need to access an email from 1998. Or maybe, I will be able to trade my 16 GB thumb drive with presentations from 2006, my CV from 2008 and some jpegs from a night out in London with my mates for a jug of water.
Maybe it’s because we can create ESI so easily in so many places: on tablets, on phones, on laptops and desktops, in space and oceans and beam it to phones and databases and hard drives all over the planet. Could it be that we are somewhat nostalgic when it comes to our data, like photos from a photo album? We look at the data years later and reminisce with friends and our kids: “Son, look at this, this is the presentation I did to get my promotion to MD 4 years ago”…. “And this is the email that I sent to Nigel in accounting telling him his football team was a bunch of whiny girls and nothing but rubbish”…. “Oh and here is the first email that I sent to your mother”….”And, and, can it be? No! My very first email at my very first job…wow!”
Maybe more than anything, it is because Electronically Stored Information doesn’t sit on our desk in the form of a paper Leaning Tower of Pisa, or in tumescent files in a drawer some place. It is out of site, out of mind. It’s not messy; there is no clutter to remind us we need to get rid of some of it. It seems like there is no harm creating all this data and never getting rid of it as it is not in our faces. Why not keep everything? It isn’t taking any physical space and isn’t impacting me or anyone else…….. Wrong! The days of keeping all ESI forever cannot go on, well, forever. Watch this space…