choosing What to delete:  PART 1

What’s hard is choosing what to keep, and what to throw out. Will I need this? Will I ever use it again? Do I want to save it for posterity? For my kids? People now suffer from huge overflows of stuff. Entire industries have been spawned to handle storage space rental and rescuing those who’ve “got junk.” We can all relate. It’s very tough. Even throwing out an old photograph can cause us to wrestle with our core values as you find yourself asking, “Am I the kind of person who tosses out photos of people I love? Do I still care enough about my kid given how much I want to throw away this grimy and disgusting old baby tooth?”

In his book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Viktor Mayer-Shönberger discusses the practical and cognitive issues put into play by the new reality that our digital information persists indefinitely on increasingly cheap data storage and server clouds. It’s an interesting point, not only because we could be embarrassed down the road by a drunken photo taken last night, but because of the overall importance of editing as a key part of creation. Our brains actually inhibit sensory input and other activity as much as engage in it when we process and think. The digital age demands we consciously choose to delete data, precisely because we don’t have to.

But new technologies do cause us to throw some things out. Having seduced us into thinking they have the power to free us from troubling, tedious or time-consuming tasks that were once part of our lives we ask: Why sweep when you have a vacuum cleaner? Why chop when you have a food processor? Why visit when you can Skype? Lately though, I’m seeing a backlash that in retrospect, seems inevitable. I’m not talking about neo-luddites who feel technology is a threat to their ways of life. It’s not about threat; it’s about finding meaning and engagement. As the digital age broke “analog” reality into quantitative approximations, over time, an unexpected consequence has emerged. We now inadvertently know just how much information the “real” world really contains. (I remember an art exhibit where artist, Lisa Moren filled a huge wall with the computer code it takes just to reproduce a tiny, low-rez image of the Mona Lisa.) A whole generation—maybe two, have grown up digital natives. What’s odd though is that now I can’t reach my son on the very digital devices he was captivated by as a child. Why? He is out having face-to-face interaction with his friends and interacting with the planet in dozens of active ways. He and his friends have decided to go for more bandwidth because they know its value. They’re covered with mud and sweat and they like it. New technologies, like new ideas, force us to make decisions about what’s important. The problem is, with some choices, there’s no “Undo.”

I have a feeling I’m going to be writing more about this.

  • Jordan Goodman

    Less is more.