Thinking Out Loud

March 11, 2013

Digital Hoarding in the 21st Century

Filed under: parenting, technology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

More than two decades ago I was a somewhat wandering youth speaker. Usually I spoke about music and music-related cultural issues. But once in awhile I hauled out a talk about how materialism is a type of surrogate religion for many people; how we draw strength in what we own, what we possess. I spoke about how most of us are driven by our passions, our positions and our possessions.  (Unrelated information: I am still available for bookings for your youth group.) (Trying too hard: Or speak to your seniors group, I’m no longer picky.)

Then I would quote a statistic that was relevant at the time that one of the biggest growth industries for small business was personal storage lockers. Comedian George Carlin was doing a routine called “A Place for my Stuff.” People whose basements and garages were full of stuff were looking for places to store more stuff, and the places began popping up anywhere an entrepreneur could find available real estate.  (Full disclaimer: We have been paying for storage for the last couple of years for some of my parents’ furnishings, and have essentially paid out more than any of their stuff is worth.) (Further disclaimer: The word couple was used loosely in the preceding sentence.)

I am not a total pack rat — in the sense that I know other people who are worse — but I have avoided watching the TV show Hoarders, just in case any of it resonates too greatly. You know… like people who avoid going to church in case they should fall under conviction. (Possible connection: People who pretend to be sick on the final night of church camp lest they be struck by an overwhelming desire to confess to something.) (Actual fact: Some of us enjoyed campfire night solely because people confessed to things.) (However: No amount of singing the guitar version of ‘Just as I Am’ would get my friend Wayne to confess he kissed Dawn outside the girls’ cabins.) (Significance of previous sentence: I had a huge crush on Dawn. We all did.)

Digital hoardingIn the digital world, my greatest transgressions on my computer involve email.  Over 11,000 currently in each of two folders.  And six major folders total.  I try to delete in groups by sender. On a good night, I might get rid of a hundred that are completely unnecessary, but it’s such a small drop in the bucket. (Metaphor technicality: It would actually constitute removing a drop in the bucket.)

Fortunately, my kids are not afflicted with my penchant for material acquisition. Everything from birthday cards to articles of clothing are tossed without a thought to sentimental value. I have encouraged them to have a ‘keepsake drawer’ somewhere, but I don’t think the concept is highly subscribed to. (Guilty admission: I sometimes rescue things they have discarded in the hope they will regret their hasty decisions.)

Which brings us to today’s irony.  Kid One, who is in third year of university has an external hard drive for his laptop and now Kid Two, who is in first year wants one for his birthday next week. An external hard drive is the personal storage locker for a new generation. It’s an admission that your massive hard drive is insufficient to store all the bits and bytes you can’t bear to delete. (Geek advisory: You really need to defrag after a major deleting session or you’re no better off.) (Behind the scenes trivia: My spell check doesn’t accept defrag.)

So maybe the apples didn’t fall far from the tree after all. Perhaps hoarding just takes a different form in the digital age. Or perhaps the external unit simply makes good backup sense. (Perhaps I should send them electronic birthday cards.) (Noteworthy: Digital Hoarding would be a great name for a band.) (Additionally: They could perform a song about Dawn and Wayne at church camp.)


  1. A lot of parenthetical insertions (that’s one of these things) in this article.

    I like to get all the mileage possible out of anything before replacing it. We used a Gateway desktop for 10 years, which in the end turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Our dial-up internet was getting slower by comparison to DSL, and I found out near the end we didn’t even have a 56K modem. All those years on dial-up and all we ever had was 28.8K hardware. In 2008 I bought a new laplop and upgraded our Internet connection. But on the old computer hard drive were hundreds of digital photos (some were digital and some were scans of real photographs) that I wanted to transfer but could not. The old machine had a CD/DVD reader but could not write to a disk. Keep in mind it was brand new in 1998, and could only write to a 3.5″ floppy. By 2008 those were outmoded technology. I had a friend that said he could loan me an external A drive, but then he looked and couldn’t find one after all. I plugged a flashdrive into the dinosaurs USB port but it didn’t have the drivers to use that. My only recourse would have been to email myself the pics I really wanted to keep, uploading at a very slow dial-up rate of 28.8 K per second, then download them to the new machine. I thought about it for a long time, and kept the old computer tower for another 4 years before giving up on that pipe dream.

    Now we have cloud storage and portable hard drives, so we never have to toss out anything again. Maybe next time we can talk about my wife’s shoe box full of cassette tapes.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — March 11, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  2. Not that it matters, but it was actually George Carlin who did A Place for My Stuff.

    I have been a computer professional (and hobbyist) since several years before the dawn of the internet age. With each new generation of hardware upgrades, I’ve always backed up all the data files from the previous generation of hardware. This happens to have worked out very well, because hard drive capacity has rapidly expanded with each generation of hardware. So I still have copies of all my oldest and earliest files running around here on my current hard drive somewhere.

    I keep telling myself that one of these days, I’m going to go through all of my old data and — well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, really. Await the resurgence of MS-DOS or OS/2? Dazzle people with screensavers from back in the day when 640 x 480 was a HUGE screen resolution? Find a use for my old WordPerfect for DOS files? I don’t know why, but I’m a data hoarder too, I guess. I’ve cleaned up old stuff here and there, but I guess a lot of it has too much sentimental value to just delete.

    Comment by Chaotic Hammer — March 12, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

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