It’s easy to become a digital packrat. It doesn’t take up physical space, ergo you can just stack the virtual crap in as high of a pile as you’d like. And over the years we accumulate a lot of virtual crap, be it photos, videos, letters, bills, business cards, etc. There’s a lot to curate in an increasingly digital existence, especially if most of your life has been “connected”.
The oldest piece of non-physical media I have only dates to 2004, even though I was accumulating a lot of junk before then, it’s been lost to the mists of time. To be fair, those 2004 photos only surfaced because an old friend of mine sent them to me, and without which, the accumulation starts in earnest around 2006 with the purchase of my first digital camera, a Nikon CoolPix L4. Most of those photos haven’t survived through to 2018, with the exception of the photos that I either backed up to DVD-R or managed to survive on an ancient flash drive that somehow avoided being lost as well. So any documentation of my life from 1989 until mid-2007 that has survived has only done so by the grace of God and my mother, whose dedication to documentation may have delayed Kodak’s bankruptcy by a few months.
This changed in 2007, when I bought a Macintosh, my first brand new computer, and also the first one that was modern. My previous PC was built with 5+ year old hand me down parts and the occasional replacement bits and bobs, but this shiny new MacBook was my gateway into the 21st century. It also had USB 2.0, unlike my hand me down PC did. So with that I bought my first external hard drive and Carbon Copy Cloner for doing backups.
I had a nasty, multi-drive crash in late 2006 and all of my pre-2006 writing and pictures went along with it. I hadn’t originally intended on not doing backups, but they just fell through the cracks because of a lack of funds. I did buy a DVD burner when I was putting the hand me down PC together, so I’d occasionally slap some important stuff on a DVD-R for safe keeping, but I was nowhere near fastidious enough about it. I now had the opportunity and funding to start fresh. I backed up what still remained on the old PC to a (very slow) USB drive and dumped it to my shiny new, 80GB MacBook which was backed up nightly to my 250GB Seagate external hard drive. Finally, some redundancy in my life.
Since then I’ve been borderline neurotic about my data backups. Whenever I’d upgrade a hard drive, I’d keep the old one as is for a “cold storage” solution. For a few years, I had a (rather insufficient) offsite backup plan where I’d do semi-monthly external drive swaps back and forth between my house and my grandmas as if I were a secretary taking the backup tapes home with her for the night, and when I finally was off on my own, I signed up for a cloud based backup service for both my main MacBook Pro (now iMac) and my file server (a custom built Windows PC just for serving up media), in addition to local, drive based backups. I’ve managed to keep a copy of every photo, song, document, etc. I’ve made since 2007 that’s found its way to my computer. And I have multiple backups of all that data. It feels pretty good, I must admit.
This is a long and frankly roundabout way of saying I hoard data. Much in the same way my great-great aunt would keep all her Yoplait yogurt containers after living through the great depression, after the great crash of ‘06 I was holding onto all of this data in the event I might need it in the future. But one thing I hadn’t considered as “digital clutter” was phone numbers. I have hundreds and hundreds of contacts in my phone. I mean, a shitload. Mostly people that I haven’t spoken to in 5+ years and probably never will again. Some of them are old friends I’ve fallen out of touch with, some of them are people I met once at the bar and never wound up calling or texting. But they’re still there because hey, maybe I’ll need that number. Maybe they’ll text me wanting to reconnect some day. I doubt it, but, anything’s possible, right?
Well, that’s frankly about the dumbest reason for holding onto something I’ve got. Especially when it’s those once-off acquaintances. So I’ve begun the great contact purge. It works as follows:
1. Dump my contacts into a spreadsheet
2. Put a column for “last known contact” and “who this is”
3. If last known contact is more than 3 years I probably will not be using it again
4. If who this is is “can’t remember” it can go
So, I followed through with my plan, and in the process added pictures to all my contacts. But what was surprising was just how few numbers I needed to delete. The total number of people I removed from my contacts? Nine. And they were people that I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years but had attempted to reach out to and they weren’t interested. That’s fair enough, I suppose. People grow up and grow apart.
But there were numbers there that I didn’t delete that I also haven’t used in a long time. Peoples’ parents, people who aren’t around anymore, people that I just couldn’t imagine deleting. And it was that sentimentality kept tugging at me. So ultimately, my attempt to cull a bunch of old numbers became my adding photos to the same few hundred contacts I’ve had for the past 5 years now since I last tried to do this. I don’t think I’m ever going to be cured of my data hoarding, so the next step will be followed up on soon: Organizing all these files to take things from digital hoarder status to digital archive status.