The Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

Google Hoarding… Goarding?
December 16, 2010, 6:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When my mother passed a year ago, I realized once and for all what I think I had long suspected: I am the child of two hoarders.

Our hoarding was never the terrible, life-threatening, no-room-to-walk-in-the-house variety, but we did keep a lot of stupid crap we didn’t need – old magazines, old school notebooks, old clothes. The main moral of my household was “don’t throw something away unless you have a damn good reason to,” and while this did coincide well with our vehement recycling (we collected our glass, cans, bottles and cardboard long before blue bins of any kind showed up), it encouraged me to adopt hoarder-like tendencies, as well. I’ve lately been trying to overcome them, and like overcoming anything, the first step is to identify why you do it.

It’s in this frame of thinking, however, that I noticed something while clearing my much-neglected Gmail inbox of its 2,000 messages (overwhelmingly from Facebook, who drops emails more often than Tim Leary dropped acid). On deletion, Gmail inquired:

“Are you sure you want to do that? You don’t have to delete messages, you know. You can just archive them to get them out of your inbox!”

…Which is the digital equivalent to “Put it in a box and forget about it. Forever. NEVER ALLOW ANYONE TO THROW IT AWAY!”

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of archiving is great: physical evidence, rather than fallible memory, can be referenced in times of need, which is very necessary in both legal proceedings and arguments with your significant other. And things that might not be all that important today could become more important tomorrow – for example, I wish someone had archived my online journal from junior high so that I could embarass myself by showing everyone what an obnoxious waste of space I once was! Plus, archiving in email can be a very necessary tool, and finally getting those goddamn reciepts from a year ago out of your inbox can be refreshing! But the fact that Google presents it as an alternative to deletion alarms me, because there is merit in deleting something.

In an article derived from a segment on Oprah, Dr. David Tolin describes how perfectionistic fear begets hoarding:

They have the mentality that, “If I can’t make this decision perfectly, I won’t do it at all.” And that’s where the hoarding comes in. They become so frightened that they will make a mistake, that they become paralyzed and just allow the clutter to build up.

This is the “But what if i need that later?!” argument, one that I think tends to apply more in terms of the internet and archiving than emotional attachment. However, the ability to just let go is necessary – chances are, unless you’re saving a very important official document, you’re not going to need it.

Gmail’s introduction of the option to never delete anything ever is not surprising for a company is based around the premise of information collection. Still, with email being such an oft-used tool in our super-special 21st century lives, the convenient out of archiving your email messages, rather than deleting them, sounds suspiciously like enabling a hoarding mentality to me.



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