Learned #27: Data, Hoarded

In which we learn about data hoarding.

I've got a new favorite subreddit, r/datahoarder. It's a place for people to show off their data collections, most frequently as a pile of hard drives, but not always. The data itself doesn't really matter. But the hoarding does. Oh yes.

Somewhere in the early part of 2002, I lost a laptop. I mean, I knew where it was - right there on my desk - but it wouldn't boot up. No matter what I did, no matter who I consulted, the hard drive was dead. And I lost everything. All my contacts, years worth of email, the original art files for my website, everything.

I had backups of some of it and I was able to get some of the rest due to other recovery programs, but that took a lot of time and could have been prevented had I just backed things up better. But, such is life. The funny thing was, all the data I actually really missed, accounted for a small, small percentage of the amount I lost.

So, what was everything else?

Music videos. Film scripts. Snoopy comic strips. Concert set lists. Jokes. Pages and pages of jokes. Books. Fan-fiction. Catalogs. 'Zines. You know, my hoard. My data.

In this issue:

  • What We're Learning: Data, Hoarded.

  • What We're Reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: For the Horde!

Let's get to it.

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash

What We're Learning: Data, Hoarded.


Back when, a lot of the data I had saved came from various corners of the internet, which did not look anything like today's internet. You could bookmark something, but there was a better than even chance that by the next time you looked it up, it would be gone, disappeared into the electronic ether. So, when you found something you liked, you downloaded it.

And, if you were like me, once you had it downloaded, you placed it into an ever-deepening nested group of folders, identifying every passing curiosity in sequences of nouns like humor-jokes-list-one liners. Creating a labeling and nesting system was easy. Finding where the hell you had put something was hard.

Time moves on. Technology changes. The internet evolved. Some of us learned some decent archival practices.*

And so, what's in the hoard these days?

That's an interesting question only because the contents reflect a change in myself, whether that's due to increased responsibility and maturity (er, age) or due to a change in the nature of technology is hard to say.

For example, by far the largest part of my digital hoard these days is my photo collection. I have terabytes of RAW photo files, neatly organized and backed-up in triplicate. I have damn near everything I have written for a blog, assignment, story, or journal entry for the past twenty years. I have a reasonable collection of purchased stock photos, clip art, and other bits of creative folderol.

Gone are the things that never really belonged to me: the music videos, film scripts, comic strips, etc. Partly this is because I have learned a lot about copyright and the nature of creative ownership over the past decade and a half, and partly because it's not really that important to me anymore. What's more, almost any of those things that I do want to see are easily available via the "proper" channels, i.e. where the original creators and copyright holders have given permission.

So, the data changed, but because I grew up or because technology changed? It's hard to say.

Lost and Found

The corollary to data hoarding is, of course, data archiving, which, much more than collecting, means labeling and being able to find what you need without too much trouble.

This is a problem that the internet has attempted to solve over and over again, with varying levels of success. I talked about some solutions I use back in Learned #8: Annotated where I talked about the programs Bear and Day One. But there's another bit of software that is entirely offline that I find myself relying on more than any other: Devon Think.

Devon Think (and my second favorite, Yojimbo) is a file organizer. Which doesn't sound like much until you get into it and really look at it. The program lets me assign damn near any kind of file I have to a folder, index and tag both the file and the folder, and preview the file whenever I need to. Add in some very powerful search and recovery tools and you have a digital librarian at your fingertips.

And this is already really, really important and only going to become more so.

We are generating vast amounts of data, much more than most of us realize or even have ready access to. How much can you lay your fingertips on right now, without needing four days and seventy-two cups of coffee to find it? Is all your paperwork online? Are you sure? Where are all the papers you might need someday? What about your tax records and your medical history? What about your 401K historical timeline? What about your kids' art pieces and book reports? What about, you know, your data? Your hoard?

I don't know that having a digital hoard is a good thing. In fact, given everything I've read, it seems like having tons of digital cruft is just as bad as having physical cruft. But I don't know that I can throw out all my data yet. I might need those tax records and medical history one day. So, for now, I'll rely on my library programs and perform my backups religiously and guard my hoard just like a dragon on a pile of gold.

*You need three backups: One easily accessed by your computer, like a flash drive, one in a local cloud solution, and one off-site by a professional back-up company. Trust me on this.

What We're Reading:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

by Marie Kondo

You've heard about this book already. Famously, the Kon-Mari method described in the book tells us to touch the things we have and, should they no longer "spark joy," throw them away.

In general, I'm not a big fan of self-help books. Nor am I a fan of de-cluttering books. I mean, I do think we've all got too much stuff. As a society, we've taken the arts of marketing and mass-production to absurd new heights we are not yet mature enough to deal with emotionally or socially, thus creating catch-22s where we need more stuff to organize the stuff we already have.

In the words of George Carlin, "Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?"

However, I think Kon-Mari has as valid a system for de-cluttering as anyone else. By which I mean, she has laid out a very useful framework for thinking about the stuff you have and the stuff you think you may no longer want. If you are ready to get rid of things but don't know where to start, this book may help you.

If you want help, and if you want to get rid of stuff. If you don't, or feel like you are under pressure from other people, remember that you can always tell them to fuck off. Always.


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Down the Rabbit Hole:

Famous Hoards and Hoarders in History:

For starters, did you know that "hoard" and "horde" are two different things? Also, there are lost treasures and hoards all over the place. Some have been found recently and that's a big deal. Blackbeard's hoard is one of the most sought-after in history. Smaug's is one of the most sought-after in literature. As for myself, I am, and will always be, for the Horde.

That's it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.