One aspect of the information age, which we are all familiar with, is that data can be quite a bulky thing. Not bulky in quite in the same sense as we may have thought thirty years ago, when most data was recorded in paper form, or in a manner that required physical space for storage and there was a clear delineation between public and private information – not based so much on content, but equally on our capacity to hold and gain access to that information. Whilst such things as bills and bank statements were a necessary evil that the individual was compelled to make space for, the sheer space we could afford for the keeping of other, less personal information, meant entrusting it to civic amenities such as libraries and local town halls. Limitations on space would mean that, at best, the average home would stretch to a couple of bookcases, and maybe – for the fortunate – a full set of bound Encyclopedia Britannica, paid for and over a million monthly instalments.
Then came the digital revolution: CD ROM, hard disks of ever-increasing capacity, flash drives, and eventually cloud storage – not to mention that the accumulated knowledge of the world, along with every type of public data imaginable, is easily accessible quite literally at the touch of a mouse button. No longer do we need physical space to store our data, but even so, data still needs to be stored somewhere, and that’s the modern day problem that we all face, with increasing frequency.
My first computer had no hard drive and my digital world was stored away on 720kb, 3-inch floppy disks. My current computer has, (pause a moment, while I count them), nine hard drives and several terabytes of capacity… And the problem is, I’m still running out of space!
Part of the problem is the quality of information that we deem worthy of retention. I have many Gigabytes of images that I’ve accumulated on a whim: Pictures from the .net that have appealed to me, made me laugh, or which have struck me as being ‘keepers’ – a good quantity of which I use as screensavers, but those aside, I have many, many images that I’ve never looked at since first saving them, all taking up precious space that I could be using for, erm… New screensavers? Then there’s all the hidden stuff: Log files that applications delight in recording for no apparent purpose; all those .xml documents that seem to be vital to the operation of any sort of software, but in reality probably do nothing at all; ‘Read Me’ documents that nobody has ever read; And thousands of files that enable me to do whatever I need to do in hundreds of different languages, even though I only ever use English. All of them, creeping death to storage capacity.
But, what about all that stuff that falls into the category of ‘useful’? Because, sometimes I do wonder just how useful it really is, and have to question myself on the logic of keeping so much information that – if pressed – I really couldn’t tell you why I’m keeping it. I have SL chat logs and IM logs going back almost to day one of my SL journey. I say almost, because thanks to an infamous moment of madness by Linden Lab, who once thought it would be a great idea for a new installation of the viewer to delete all previous logs, I lost my earliest records of SLife. However, what I have does go right back to June 2010, which in a way, is complete madness. Why on earth is there any need for me to keep records of conversations, and for that matter local chat, that took place seven years ago? What possible useful purpose could it serve?
Well, funny you should ask that… Only recently, I had great fun looking up the first occasion of meeting a number of friends and seeing what our first conversational exchange was, (Spoiler: Mostly it was variations on “Hello, pleased to meet you”). Apart from that, however, it is a little difficult to explain why, other than for the old catch-all, ‘nostalgia’. In fact, now that I think about it, much the same could probably said for the vast majority of data that I’ve pulled from SL, stored and – in the main – left undisturbed for years. Images, logs, exported builds, textures… The list is long and undistinguished, and ultimately, of very limited value other than to myself as a reminder of the past events of my virtual life.
Nostalgia aside, it’s really hard to justify keeping any of it. Unless I publish it in these pages, who else is going to ever see, read or use it? And, when I finally go off to that great virtual world in the sky, do I seriously think that anyone is going to want to wade through years’ worth of information, little of which will make any sense to them, and none of which will have any relevance to their own lives? Probably not.
But, even though rationality tells me it’s a relatively pointless thing to do, I know that I’m by no means the only one – many thousands of SL inmates throughout the world are doing exactly the same thing, and perhaps one day, many years in the future, when humankind has finally blasted itself into oblivion, some enlightened civilisation from across the galaxy might stumble upon the remains of our planet and work out how to operate our hard disks.
And I’m sure they will be utterly baffled by the world they discover and wonder how on earth humanity lasted long enough to even record what they were up to!
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
Judy Collins – In My Life