I must ‘fess up: I am a digital hoarder. I hardly ever delete anything. If you’ve ever sent me an email I probably still have it. As I have mentioned recently I have stored an estimated 250,000 emails that I have received or sent at one point or another. I don’t know how many documents I have stored, but again, there are very many – though here I do from time to time delete in order not to take up silly amounts of disk space. As I mentioned, I do wonder about how durable this archive will be, and whether on some future date it will be unreadable as the software changes, and therefore obsolete.
But now it has been suggested by Oxford Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger that, in fact, we need to be better at digital forgetting. We should assume that much of what we are hoarding has no lasting value of any kind and should be deleted. Or else, we should be worried about data security and the personal intrusiveness of data retention, and we should delete and cause others to do so. The mass of stored information can never be processed properly and hoarders such as me are jeopardising the remembering of what matters.
But what does matter? Is my belief today as to what matters likely to be my belief in 20 years time, if I’m spared? Or will others agree anyway? I can easily see the common sense of the proposition that by storing much less we will be able to attract more attention for what we do retain. But then again, if I could get access to trivial notes written by, say, Charles Dickens I would still suspect that some of these would add worthwhile knowledge about the author.
So I’m not necessarily persuaded. I’m still hoarding. Though to be fair, I have still got no idea whether what I am hoarding will be accessible to anyone of a future generation; I’m just putting my trust in the technological ingenuity of our descendants.