Post Academic

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 3: Digital Clutter

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 9, 2010
Tags: , ,

You’d think that entering the digital age would help me keep things tidy, but you’d be wrong.  First, the piles of paper, as I mentioned last time, aren’t completely gone, even if the stacks are getting smaller little-by-little over time.  Second, I’ve just become a digital hoarder and my problem is probably worse in virtual reality than it is in the real world.

Here’s what’s happening to the steadily dwindling gigabytes of memory on my computer:

1. More and more computer files: It seems that the word processor was invented for the academic who thinks almost any thought might be a diamond in the rough, because it helps you remember things and develop ideas you might have otherwise forgotten about.  But it doesn’t help you if you create so many drafts that you forget which file was a brainstorming session and which was a more polished draft, or which version is the more recent one and which is the default to go back to if your writing is going nowhere.  Plus, I know that it’s probably not a great idea to give all these minutely different drafts almost the same file names, but calling them different things also confuses me.

What makes all the clutter worse is that I not only keep it on my computer after I finish a project, but it’s likely that I’ve transferred old, outdated files from one computer to the next.  Best/worst case in point: I still have random drafts of sections of chapters from my long-completed dissertation floating around on my current laptop, even though I actually finished the thing two computers ago!  Even as a I prepare to go post-academic, I still have some crazy thought in the back of my mind that I just might revise the 400-page beast into a book and that I just might need those half-baked ideas that didn’t make the cut into the actual dissertation.  Of course, even if I did happen to ever work on the diss manuscript again, it’s unlikely I’d ever look at those old drafts again and I wouldn’t even know where to start if I did!

More and more digital clutter below the fold…

2. More and more folders: The one thing I have managed to do is to keep my desktop relatively clean.  The thing is, I might be hoarder, but I’m also a neat freak about certain things.  So how do I manage my desktop while hoarding at the same time?  I just create more and more folders to stash my files, which might not be so bad, since you’d think that’s what folders are for.  The problem is that I forget which folder went in which other folder or if all the files from the same category actually went in the right place.  Then there are the default categories that Mac automatically sets up like “Documents” or “All Images” or “Applications.”  All the default categories lead me to the next problem…

3. Digital duplication: One of the problems with the pre-set save-to targets is that I have no actual idea of where the things I’m uploading go when I look through directories and categories and folders.  And since I don’t know where to look, I end up saving things to multiple places on my computer, though I’m not sure enough about that to just go through and delete stuff either!  With my photos, does (the really awful) iPhoto just save one copy or does it also make a duplicate that gathered up in the “All Images” or “My Pictures” folders too?  Does iTunes just process all my MP3s (or MP4s, if anyone is counting) from “My Music” or is it also saving an extra file to iTunes?  A brief iTunes non-sequitur here: When will it alphabetize musicians by last name instead of first name?  That drives the neat freak CD organizer in me crazy!

4 Email, un/read and undead: I talked about this phenomenon earlier, in my tribute to my .edu email account.  Due to the technocratic inefficiency that you’d expect from a large public institution, it’s still up-and-running and still adding to the almost 4500 unread messages out of almost 6500 total messages in the inbox.  While it’s nostalgic to have the .edu attached to me, I kinda wish it would just go away at this point.  It’s easy to get rid of your hoard when you have no choice over what to do with it.

5. More and more computers: Holding onto the actual computers is probably the most absurd act of hoarding, be it in the virtual world or in real life.  First, I’m paranoid–as any good hoarder is–about losing the data on the computers, which probably don’t even work any more, since that’s why I get newer ones.  Second, I’m also afraid that someone else might get their hands on information that’s stored up in ways and places that I have no clue about.  (I had an identity fraud situation in the past, so the paranoia might be at least a little bit warranted.)  Third, nostalgia can creep in, too: You think it’s bad that I’ve kept my old droid-looking Mac that I used all through undergrad (in the early-/mid-90s) so long that I can’t even remember whether I still have it or not?

Sorry if this self-administered therapy session has been overly self-indulgent or seems like word hoarding, but it has helped me realize that even my tongue-in-cheek hoarding problem might actually be worse than I ever imagined.  And if you see your own experience even a little bit in mine, you’re welcome to join my virtual support group any time!

“Picture of CER-12 Computer” by Aleksandar Susnjar from Wikimedia Commons, licensed through GNU General Public License.

“Apple Macintosh SE30” by Cornellanense from Wikimedia Commons, licensed through Creative Commons

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