The plight of the digital hoarder

Reading Charlie Warzel’s latest article in The Atlantic brought up one of those situations that I’ve had in the back of my mind. You know the one that sometimes rears up and says “halloo” and you’re like, “Yes, that’s something I should do something about, or consider more thoughtfully,” right before you’re distracted with taxes or cats or something much more important to the present moment.

My digital inventory is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I have so many files saved in so many places, it really is a roadmap to my 30+ years online. I have a couple of external hard drives and all of the computers I’ve owned since 2002, just waiting to be scavenged. I can’t tell you what I’ve got saved there, and that’s the problem.

I have my entire thesis, notes, PDFs, and versions saved on Google Drive. My dissertation is moving into the folder next door. I have a ton of audiobooks saved on a red Western Digital Passbook that doesn’t like to keep ahold of its cord. There’s an old laptop that may have some embarrassing chat logs saved on it (not embarrassing to me, but still). And a host of other cloud accounts that have pieces of me scattered through the Intarwebs.

This is the first step to having a functioning teleporter: the atomizing of a human life, one jpeg at a time.

My life runs on a semester schedule, so there may be some time available this summer (while dissertation writing) to make a start on curating and culling this unwieldy collection. I think it would be interesting to go through every file, every photo, every stray bit and byte that makes up a good chunk of who I’ve built myself to be. So many little corners of the internet hold the me-equivalent of that stray 2×4, a half-full can of primer, and some brass bracket from the 1950s. I may need that GIF one day.

Without children to burden with my digital legacy (my nephew would be the only one I’d trust, and I like him too much to make him go through my “SORT THIS SHIT” folders), I often wonder who am I saving all of this stuff for? Did that snippet of a poem from 2011 really mean something to me, or is it just one step on the path to becoming a mediocre writer? I have twenty photos of a stapler from my old writing center because I thought it would be funny to give it its own Facebook page. (It was funny, for a while, but then I forgot about it.)

If I really think about it, I’ve saved all of this, every last byte, for me and for right now. Perhaps, instead of waiting for circumstance to bring the borders of my life into clearer view, I should take this opportunity to “sort this shit” now and keep only what is a reflection of who I was, and who I aim to become. Perhaps, I will make a multimodal journal of my life so far.

I just thought of this now, writing this post (because writing is thinking, friends) and this could be a nice project for this blog.

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