I have 34,219 messages in various folders in my primary email account. About a dozen of the messages are actually important. And yet I resist deleting all but the most egregious items, like those unsolicited offers for weight loss and sexual enhancement products.
Why? Why do I want a record of conversations with people I can't even remember? Why do I hold on to messages that make me cringe, cry, or question my sanity?
What's wrong with me? Wait. To avoid opening a Pandora's box too big for any of us to handle, let me narrow the focus of that question: Why can't I throw any of my digital data away?
Data hoarding seems to be growing in direct proportion to big-data. We've talked about it here before: See Data Hoarders May Need Sanity Check and Break Out of the Hoarder Mentality, for instance. And just today I stumbled on a blog by Amber Simonsen, executive project manager at Pierce Transit in Lakewood, Wash., who plans to speak about the perils of keeping too much information at the AIIM 2013 Conference in New Orleans next March.
"What begins as an innocent desire to keep relevant information close at hand can turn into an unhealthy obsession that plagues IT departments and Records Managers in organizations everywhere," Simonsen warns.
It was so much easier to part with paper. It accumulated quickly enough to be a distraction, cluttering desks and countertops, and creating anxiety for people like me, who viewed every pile of paper as a symbol of work undone. The easiest way to breathe easier was to simply throw as much paper as possible away, future need for it be damned.
Not so with digital documents, all stored neatly in multiple inboxes on unseen servers, in ever expanding clouds worldwide.
While it seems easy to justify holding onto... well, everything in digital format, Simonsen argues that digital hoarding bloats our servers, slows down our networks, and creates unnecessary duplicates that put the organization at risk for retention compliance and e-discovery issues. In addition, she contends digital hoarding takes a toll on the workforce -- creating frustration for people who are forced to look through version after version to find the final version of a critical document, for instance. And that amounts to big wastes of time.
I know. She's right. I don't need every version of every document I ever created. I don't need thousands of email messages, many of which are still marked "unread." I don't need anyone to tell me to start hitting "delete" with greater frequency. What I need is professional help.
You won't find digital hoarding in the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But reports indicate the association plans to give hoarding disorder its own category when it publishes the manual's fifth edition early next year. Can the digital subtype be far behind?
Anyone with even mild digital addiction understands what mental health professionals are only now explicitly acknowledging: There is a very fine line between careful -- as in not wanting to delete something potentially important -- and crazy.