I'm A Digital Hoarder

I never get rid of anything, unless it falls victim to tech failure. I've kept the first website I ever designed, the first poems I've ever written, the portfolio I painstakingly crafted to get into art school - all of it safe and sound, backed up on hard drives.
Publish date:
January 16, 2014
Instagram, hoarding, photos, tumblr

I'm really excellent at this feat of whipping my phone from the holster of my back pocket to swipe the camera icon and snap a moment whenever I reflexively decide "this NEEDS to be captured."

I am the girl behind the camera, taking the photo more often than being in it - unless I'm turning the lens on myself. I am known for writing down things people say as they say them because I want to remember specifics, capturing conversations on video, articulating the way I feel about things as they happen.

Maybe it's assumed I'd rather watch and capture moments than be a part of them, but I don't know if that's entirely true. I'd argue that my tendency to catalog is usually a method to better enhance my experiences.

I do however admit to using my smartphone as an object to hide behind when I am not feeling particularly confident in myself or my surroundings. It is a crutch I am aware of and actively challenging every day.

I have always possessed a nostalgic nature, a need to chronicle the things I see and experience and go back through them over and over again. Before blogs, I kept paper journals. Before smart phones, I used snapshot digital cameras. Before digital, I used disposable film cameras and polaroids. Quick. Simple. Cheap.

Today my collections of files and photos are immense. There are close to 7,000 photos on my phone right now, with thousands upon thousands more sitting in dozens of digital and online spaces. My photos are not always particularly beautiful or perfectly composed, but I keep them all anyway, in multiples - along with sketches, word docs, and design work that can be dated back to age 10 - when my family finally had an internet connection and a computer that could handle my various creative experiments.

I am a self-confessed digital hoarder; I never get rid of anything, unless it falls victim to tech failure. I've kept the first website I ever designed, the first poems I've ever written, the digital portfolio I painstakingly crafted to get into art school - all of it kept safe and sound, backed up on hard drives.

To consider the flip side, my fiance is the king of digital purging. His desktop is spotless, his documents are pruned regularly, his iTunes library is meticulously ordered, and he only has about 8 photos on his iPhone. When he takes over my computer to do something or other, he physically recoils at the state of my file-saving system.

We are nothing if not complete polar-opposites when it comes to keeping and organizing things, but he helps by bringing some order into my life and I help bringing some healthy chaos into his.

Some will assert that the introduction of technology, digital/mobile photography, and social media photo sharing, has created a culture in which we generate far too much useless shit on a widespread scale.

While I agree that technology has made it easier for anyone/everyone to capture and share images, whether or not these images are "useless" or create a lot of unnecessary visual noise is really subjective.

Sure, we take a lot of photos of our food, our outfits, and our faces - but previous generations have done the same, if only in different ways.

I can still see it in photo collections of the past. When I go through my mom's stacks of albums, particularly the one filled with photos snapped in the early 1980's (when she and my dad were dating), I am struck by how the images seem to reflect the sorts of things one might find on today's Instagram feeds.

There is a shot of the view from the window of their apartment in downtown Cleveland. Another, a picture of my mom, playing with her remote shutter and staring directly into the lens, reminds me of an early version of the "selfie" - as do various other photos in her albums. Especially the ones involving nights out with friends, turning the camera around to point and shoot without being able to immediately view the result.

Why should these seemingly mundane everyday moments be invalidated by tagging them as "useless" when they can be so precious?

Technology has made collecting things so much easier, more attainable, creative, customizable. Filters! Hashtags! Sharing! We can get to know another person's life by scrolling through a collection of images we've been granted access to. I am certain I would be doing these things regardless of time and medium, but I am thankful for the conveniences of my generation. I'd be terrified to find out how I would function without it all.

My inclination to hoard takes place in real life as well - especially when it comes to clothes and sentimental objects that I have a hard time letting go of - but it would be decidedly more amplified without technology helping to keep the physicality to a minimum.

I once watched a documentary about Charles and Ray Eames (artists from Metro Detroit famous for designing innovative chairs and other such things for sitting) that really spoke to me. There was some footage showing Ray Eames' studio, which was this whirlwind of papers, books, drawings, plans, notes, inspirations, photographs, objects and trinkets spilling forth from drawers and baskets, covering every possible surface.

If I were to print out each thing I've saved or put on the internet - every Tumblr entry and photo collected, each note or document I'd ever saved on desktops and hard drives over the years, each piece of paper I'd scanned in before throwing it away - the physical enormity of it all would be just as immense. I'd have towering stacks of books, scrapbooks, magazines, and journals instead of Tumblr collections, blog entries, RSS feeds, Pinterest boards, flash drives, and external hard drives. And I'd have a really hard time parting with any of it, just like I have a hard time dragging files to the little trash can.

I'm willing to bet I could stack piles large enough to fill a 10 x 10 foot room, floor to ceiling. At LEAST. (I kind of really want to test that theory.)

How about you? If you printed off every single digital file you owned onto paper, what do you suspect you could do with it all? Tell me all about the things you keep and how/why you keep them.