By now, you’ve probably see the show Hoarders on television. At least you’ve heard of it. Many of us watch that show, shocked that these people can put themselves into that kind of state. We’re abhorred by their mess and simply cannot understand why they aren’t throwing some of their junk away. Meanwhile, we “archive” yet another message in our Gmail inboxes.

It doesn’t create as much of a visible mess as those who collect physical things, but I’m starting to think that being a digital pack rat probably isn’t all that healthy either. Think about our state of being these days, especially when it comes to Internet content and digital media. I don’t know about you, but I delete very little on my computer. Everything is archived somewhere “just in case.”

The Gmail Archive Function

If there is space to take it, chances are that it’s going to be saved. Think about Gmail for just a moment. Before it came along, free web-based email accounts had rather limited storage. We deleted the junk, trashed the newsletters, and did away with e-flyers. With Gmail, we now have something like 7.5GB at our disposal… and I’m using almost 40% of that.

Why delete that email? You never know when you might want to see it again, especially since it’s so easy to find through the “search mail” function at the top of the screen. Yes, I’m sure I’ll want to see the Best Buy flyer from December 2007 ten years from now.

Hundreds of Photos at Your Fingertips

Similarly, many of us are doing much the same thing when it comes to music, movies, and pictures. Whether I”m covering a trade show or I’m on vacation, I end up shooting hundreds of photos each day. Some are good, some aren’t, but they’re all saved, archived, and backed up. They might even get uploaded to my Flickr photostream.

Contrast that to the days of film camera. Each roll could only take a couple dozen pictures, so you were much more mindful of what you shot and what you didn’t. You took the time to frame it just so, because you didn’t want that precious segment of film to go to waste. These days, I take more than a half dozen shots of the same thing, just so I can pick the best one after the fact. Hard drives are relatively cheap, so just keep saving, right?

Is This Healthy?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a pack rat in the real world too. I keep the retail boxes for many of the things I buy, because I figure that if I sell it down the road, the new owner may want it. That, and the box might contain some long since forgotten accessories that could come in handy. I collect all sorts of random trinkets too and these start to pile up quite quickly.

In the digital sense, you don’t “see” that kind of mess. You don’t “see” this amassing of belongings, so it doesn’t look like it’s a problem. But it can be. As much as I appreciate free services like Dropbox, they’re almost adding kindling to the fire by tempting you with even more storage.

What do you think? Has digital hoarding become a widespread phenomenon that needs to be addressed? Or am I blowing this out of proportion?