I’m trying to work out exactly when the amount of information in my life permanently exceeded my capacity to ever realistically deal with it It was probably some time in the 80s, when my discipline for cataloguing my cassette tapes slipped. Not long after, I got my first computer and the 3.5” floppy discs started filling up shoeboxes. Now, I have 9 computers, 12 terabytes of internal hard drives, thumb drives, pocket drives, Memory sticks, iPods, MiniDVs, SD cards, MiniDiscs, VHS tapes, DVDs and CDs – not to mention the filing cabinets stuffed with printed, flattened wood pulp and shelves full of half-read books, magazines and newsletters.
In January, I thought I would take two weeks to re-organise and re-name everything in “My Documents” in a New Year resolution attempt to stem the relentless eruption of data enveloping my rapidly unraveling existence. I found 200,000 files! I got through the first three folders (all beginning with ‘A’) before my two weeks was up. I hadn’t even started on my email file, with 20,000 email addresses submerged within, the 3,000-plus Websites I bookmarked, hoping to visit them again or the instruction manuals for all the software I told myself I was going to master.
Biological evolution didn’t really see this coming – otherwise we would have evolved brains that could instantly expand and re-format in response to this information explosion, an elastic skull and cells that can retain our lifestyle data as efficiently and accurately as they retain our DNA. The reality is we are only marginally smarter than orangutans. While we haven’t changed much biologically for many thousands of years, our networks, civilizations, institutions and technologies have overpowered our individual mind’s capacity to cope. We are drowning in our own life-stream.
All this social networking hasn’t helped. No Flickr account is going to store every photograph I own. No YouTube channel could ever collate, manage and stream the thousands of hours of video in my possession. No FaceBook page is going to organise and manage every person I have ever had anything to do with. All these sites have done is added to my password collection and created more folders on my computer full of the files I wish I had the bandwidth to upload. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would deduce that social networking sites have been promoted precisely so as to increase my inability to do anything about anything, snowed under as I already was before I signed up. How can I affect change in the world when I can’t even get around to re-naming DSC128769.jpg to something meaningful?
Maybe it’s time to evolve in a different way – to a state of acceptance. Give up hope of ever sorting it out. Get ruthless and start deleting. Reduce the torrent to a gentle stream, make a nice little list of the things to sort out that will truly make a difference in my life and work on that. Let the rest just float on by. It’s cassette cataloguing time!