A virtual mess: Are you a secret digital hoarder?

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

If you could see the hidden electronic world of digital hoarders, this is what it would look like: room after room filled with photographs they hate. Thousands of MP3 songs they never will listen to are piled on the floor. Emails are stacked to the ceiling. Old videos and movies cover the floors. There is a rotting virtual smell in the digital air.

In reality, you can't see a digital hoarder's stash. Their real physical world may even be neat as an empty recycling bin. In the not-so-distant past, a virtual hoarder would be surrounded by boxes of floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, hard drives or even a drawer-full of thumb drives. The cost would also be obvious.

Now, in addition to physical electronic storage, there are online free file storage possibilities such as DropBox or Amazon Cloud. The digital hoarder can squirrel away files across the Internet, or pay monthly fees to expand storage. The result can add to the creeping electronic monthly charges. If the data is saved in too many "free" online services, that valuable file could be lost like a paycheck under a pile of clothes.

Melinda Beck writes in the Wall Street Journal about a digital hoarder named Mark Carter: "He estimates he has 24,000 MP3 files, 4,000 digital books, 2,000 CDs, 3,000 family photos saved on DVDs and at least 1,300 saved emails, including some from 20 years ago."

Beck says the definition of hoarding is "accumulating items beyond the point of usefulness, and it typically applies to things like clothing or cats."

Beck continues, "Nobody knows how many Americans have digital-hoarding issues … but the proliferation of devices, the explosion of information and the abundance of cheap storage have made it all too tempting for some people to amass emails, text messages, Word documents, Web pages, digital photos, computer games, music files, movies, home videos and entire TV seasons than they can ever use or keep track of."

Christophe Mallet on Social Media Today quotes Kit Anderson, past president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization: "Digital clutter doesn't beget mice or interfere with walking around the house, but it's more insidious because no one else is going to insist that you get help."

"I save everything because I'm afraid if I delete it, I'll need it someday," Barbara Vey says on her Publishers Weekly blog. "I know this isn't rational."

Frank Kerner on geekpreview.net thinks his readers are hoarders: "I know you're denying it right now, but let's think about it. How much music is on your iPod or MP3 player? Probably a lot, right? Do you have it organized into playlists? Do you even have them organized by album? If not, you just might be a digital hoarder."

Kerner's article features a cartoon/photo where someone asks, "Honey, can I delete old episodes of 'Hoarders' off the DVR?"

"No!" Honey responds. "I'm saving them."

A post by Stacey Glick at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management's website shows how the hoarding gets in the way: "Just last night, I was trying to share pictures from our vacation in Maine and was so frustrated that we have over 11,000 pictures on our new computer and no way to easily organize them. At last glance, I had over 50,000 emails in my in-box!"

Daniel W. Rasmus writes at Fast Company about how new free file storage services on the Internet cloud is making the hoarding worse: "What are we hoarding now? Online storage. Have you collected Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Box and Amazon cloud storage like flash drives to some virtual key ring? Do you have images scattered across Apple's Photostream, Google+ and Picassa, Flickr and Facebook?

"If your answer is yes, then you have Distributed Data Disorder (DDD). This is no imaginary aliment. I spent nearly five hours over the weekend rationalizing the gigabytes of data that I had stored in SkyDrive and Dropbox. Duplicates, in some cases — folders with the same intent but with different names, each containing bits of my writing, my business, my personal life."

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