When we click and share and save, we end up collecting clutter. This isn’t some technological essay on what is the actual result of you using your computer, I am just stating objectively that digital clutter is just as much clutter as hoarding every issue of The New York Times amidst skeletons of cats. But simply because we cannot bump into in the middle of the living room, we pay less attention to it. You see, my OCD extends to computer files as well. I only have one “messy” folder, which is subject to cleaning the same way my apartment is every other week. And the way I declutter physical things yearly (I love throwing stuff out, that is how I know that hoarders have to be mentally ill, because saying goodbye to old things is just liberating!), I also clean my computer.
At the beginning of 2018 I decided to put in order my digital foot print. I don’t even know if this term exists, but it sounds like it should, and well, it was really liberating again. The first thing I did was I looked through my blog of seven years, starting its eight year run now in 2019. I had to admit that I did not know the direction I wanted to go with when I started, but small title corrections and page revisions (although a lot of work) was very rewarding in getting the shape that I now know my blog needs. My heart goes out to all those pages that have been interrupted because their authors believed that it would be too much work to put the blog back into its proper shape… But there was something else I did all year round, and that was the main reason I want to call this process cleaning my digital foot print.
Over a year ago I set out to put everything in order on my facebook profile, for various reasons. I can already say that it was the best and weirdest experience of my life. I got to learn a lot about myself and for that reason alone it was worth it. Each morning I would click on my memories and go back to the very bottom and see everything that happened. It became such a routine that I miss not doing it while drinking my coffee after waking up.
First of all, the privacy settings have changed more than one might think. Back when I was in high school, for example, messenger did not work at all. Having only your real buddies and classmates as your friends, and maybe some younger cousins, ended in all of us writing things onto each other’s walls instead of sharing them privately. As I get older, as far as I can tell, I too want to select more what I share and what I deem “funny” nowadays, on the inside joke department. (No, people will not care for you more after the knowledge of you having friends and sharing your inside jokes online). So much so that I want to go back and tell myself to stop posting… but more on this later. On top of that, almost everything was by default set on public for everyone (another reason why stalking your crush was so much easier in high school!). Along the old posts that were public I've found the ones to my class about payments for prom, or substituting teachers, and so on, so I had to go back and change all of those privacy settings (or just delete them, I deleted a lot of things!).
Second, I have to say that my life is really repetitive. I noticed that on the same day of the year I posted the same song for over five years. Even if not my actions, my feelings are repetitive. My mind remembers things not as randomly as I might have thought (which is very scary). I made a habit out of listening to every song I shared on my wall over the years and was a great way to start the day, I then saved quotes from my friends and teachers that previously I only had written online, into a word document. My university years were filled with wonderful moments that could have gone forgotten, but thanks to this feature, even if people walked in and out of my life, the good moments, those little ones that made me sometimes smile for a whole day, could stay with me forever. I know people who passed away and their families kept their facebook profiles... I don't want to be one of those people. The reason I can think of digital clutter as such, is that it is always physical to me: the memory of something I shared online, the feeling I had while listening to a song, the anger of reading certain articles and the joy of looking at puppy videos is something that I believe I can touch. And if I can touch it, I can also through it out (or pass it on) when it is part of a past lesson that I have already learned.
Third, ... the whole World is repetitive two. The other morning I stopped myself from posting about snow, because I noticed that I did so three years in a row. It is amazing to my how my brain managed to completely erase the fact that it snowed at the same time last year, instead I complained to someone about how it never snows lately in the winter season... This made me understand why, I remember the same songs at the same time of the year: something in the air is the same every 365 days.
The most important lesson I have learned that, and this is a secret, but nobody really cares. Funnily enough, we all have clicked on the unfollow button, and that is something I can see from the likes I used to get and I get now. We all use facebook differently, and well, anybody passing judgment on what you should or shouldn't post online is ludicrous to me. I have always thought of facebook as an online journal, you see, my personal journal is not private either, I mostly take note of hangouts with friends and a couple of small things I do want to remember, or have data of (funny how that is ambiguous), like the name of my university teachers, or the Christmas presents my best friend got me. And as I am a living breathing open book, so is my journal, and my facebook. I understand that this might be a bit aggressive to some people, but it is literally impossible to make all of my 300+ friends happy all the time, so I stopped trying. The only reason I would go back and make myself stop, is that I have found a pattern: if I have the chance to talk about my day to my parents, my partner, or my best, I am less inclined to fall pray to the "What's on your mind?" question facebook asks me. And as a teenager, I just had to share it with an interface available to hundreds, instead of someone close. I wish I could go back and tell myself to look for someone to talk it out with, instead of posting it. But that is the only regret I have, and I feel that too was a lesson I learned because I took the time to go back and get familiar with my timeline.
But why is it good to keep in check your digital clutter?
Well, you might end up writing things onto discs (I do, yes, I am a 100, leave me alone!), or store them on hard-drives, endless number of hard-drives, with folders that need renaming and organizing and we all know nobody is going to do it... but what remains is the fact that these are already physical forms of your clutter. I have 437 DVDs worth of clutter, that takes up quite the space in my living room! And had my techniques of cleaning been more efficient years ago, I wouldn't perhaps have all these discs that I am now afraid to throw out.
I have advices for myself, as in, save less images, delete emails, make copies of photos in your cloud, revise once in a while folders, see if you really need everything, and make lists of the important materials (movies, ebooks, music, etc.) that you need quick access too. If you wish to follow these, please do, but more importantly, remember that your computer can only handle so much...
As strange as it may sound, if you are a fun of physical decluttering, you are bound to enjoy it technologically too, as long as you give it a try!
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(If you feel the need to tell me that facebook keeps things that I delete, don't, I know already and I don't care. I am not hiding things from the FBI, but just looking through my life with the help of a mouse and organizing it to my viewing pleasure.)