When You Just Can’t Let Go

By Deane Barker on September 16, 2004

We are becoming digital pack rats: There’s no greater manifestation of the pack rat syndrome than with email. I’ve always thought that email retention is a disease. I know people (I used to be one of them) who have CDs of email archives from when they first started using the medium 10 years ago.

Personal computers — our jukeboxes, photo labs, accountants and film studios — are becoming the proverbial junk drawer, scattered with scads of must-have information. Sister devices such as digital cameras, MP3 players and digital video recorders overflow with often barely a bite of spare storage.

The ravenous nature of society coupled with the quest for convenience has spawned a nation of digital pack rats, eager to possess every gigabyte of media they can download, and too greedy — or lazy — to let it go.

I make it a point to gleefully delete old emails. Sometimes I’ll just highlight the bottom half of my Sent Items folder and hit “Delete” just to prove a point. I know people for which this action would send them into convulsions.

Email ain’t baby pictures, people — let it go. Via the always awesome ShelfLife.



  1. cra… rubbish. With storage becoming so cheap and so plentiful, I fully expect to never delete another email, IM log, or photo. Deleting stuff is plain stupid when you don’t have to. If one word of one email (or even netmail for old BBS users) ever inspires you or is useful to you, then that alone is probably worth the cost of the five Kb or whatever it took to store that.

    You’re like saying “hell I’ve had this address in my address book for THREE WHOLE WEEKS and bever phoned this person” – and then ripping that page out of your address book. That’s a very silly thing to do, cos there’s a chance someone important’s address might have been on the back of the page you rippped out…

  2. Hi. My name’s Dave, and I’m a pack rat.

    And I need to take a less pack-rattish stance with my e-mail. But when it comes to the art files I work with day to day, I have to agree with teddlesruss that with storage becoming cheaper and cheaper, there’s less reason to toss old stuff. In years past I spent a lot of time moving files off the active servers to a pre-archive repository, then to redundant offline archive media. I’m finding less of a need to do that these days because adding more storage space is less costly than the time I spent building archives and the media used for that. We have natural attrition with some customers asking that their old files be deleted, and newer versions of others replacing the old, but there is much to say for keeping even old versions around for a while.

    Granted, this system may not be infinitely sustainable — there will likely come a day when I dump files that haven’t been touched in ten years — but I also see data storage becoming cheaper and faster and more efficient all the time.

    Now I wish my customers would take a similar view of things and keep more of their original files, and stop asking me for copies of what they sent me two years ago. I guess my reputation is getting around.

  3. I waiting for Chris to chime in and make fun of me for emailing him all the time asking for information from old emails. I do that a lot, I guess, but I still maintain that getting rid of the evidence…,uh, I mean, the email, is a good thing.

  4. I don’t really mind deleting emails (even though I never do), but with other stuff, I’m actually increasing the pack-rattiness using version control. I version source code, of course, but I also find it useful for notes and pictures too.

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