Thoughts on digital garbage

This article was first published in LinkedIn.

Foreword

We all know what garbage and littering is. We know it, we feel it, we see it, we – people with good kinderstube –  despise it and fight it. We clean it up.

I feel the same way about digital garbage. Do you – a fellow e-citizen with good manners in digital environment – feel it, too?

I feel there is too much digital garbage. It’s everywhere, it suffocates me. I feel really bad if I see people creating more and more useless, excessive data every day.

Painful experience

I used to work at a big corporation for many years. As in every big company this company hosts some morons, too, who make themselves useful by creating Powerpoint slideshows of tens and tens megabytes and then spread these files by e-mail to present often outdated and useless information to colleagues or customers. Nobody raises an eyebrow because it’s normal there. I’m absolutely sure that this big corporation is not an exception. It’s the rule. It happens everywhere, in almost every company.

It does not happen in my company. Otherwise I’m pretty open minded and tolerant but I do not tolerate digital littering at MageFlow. It’s a clearly stated policy and it’s repeated over and over again.

For me it comes down to three things: skills, ethics and energy.

Please continue reading if you care about cleaner e-nvironment.

Skills

Most people don’t have the skills to behave correctly in digital environment. They’re like young calves in the spring. Nobody has told them how to handle data properly without creating another and another and another useless copy of it.

I’ve brought this example before but I guess it’s good enough to repeat it here. Please do a little math for me now and tell me how many copies and megabytes of one file with size of 1 megabytes there will be if you send this file to 2 of your friends by e-mail? 1? 2? 3? 5?

Correct answer is at least 4 assuming your friends don’t save it to their harddisk and not including all the possible e-mail servers that may or may not keep an additional copy for whatever reason.

How’s that possible then? Here’s how:

1 – original file on your computer’s hard disk

2 – a new copy attached to the e-mail in your sent mail folder

3 – a new copy in your friend #1’s inbox

4 – a new copy in your friend #2’s inbox

Is that enough copies for you? For me it’s 3 too many. The files are stored somewhere, the files will be stored somewhere. Forever – I tend to think nowadays. There’s also question about file versions, integrity, consistency. I mean – can you tell me now which version of those 4 files is THE correct one, the master version? Can you? I can’t!

Ethics

Actually I think it’s unethical, unfair to litter other people’s digital space the same way it’s unethical and even criminal to litter other people’s physical property. It’s not right to make other people to buy more and more storage because you cannot send links instead files or you cannot use streaming instead of downloading.

It’s like littering someone’s backyard. You don’t do that IRL. Why should you do it in the Internet? However, it’s not that simple always.

Sometimes I send images of my kid to my mom as attachments because I know she would call me otherwise and ask if she should open that (whateverish*box or *drive) link in that e-mail or is it a virus or … Moooommmm!!! Oehhh…

Eventually it’s about skills. It’s about education. It’s about experience.

We – the responsible and aware e-citizens – should teach the less knowledgeable. Be it our parents, our brothers and sisters – we need to teach them behave in the modern digital environment – the e-nvironment. There are do’s and don’ts exactly like in the real world. This is our responsibility to spread the world and behave as role models. It takes a lot of patience, though.

Energy

There are also energetical issues. Maybe those more at home at physics or information technology know the answer already but I don’t. Feel free to comment if I’m wrong here.

Anyway – we spend energy, a lot of energy on storing data, the bits and bytes, on different types of storage. What happens to that energy once we delete a file? Is it being freed? Where does it go? How to catch it, how to reuse it? I mean – almost metaphysically – what happens to that information that was just there – ␡ – and it’s gone. Where did it go? What did it become now?

¯\(º_o)/¯

Solution

The wrong way to handle data is to create more copies of it that are possibly false and outdated. The right way to handle data is to maintain an original and enable others to access it. Thank to all gods – Odin and fellows included – that there are tons of sharing solutions nowadays. It hasn’t been the case always. And it’s not the case in the corporate networks because these big corporations are still shitting their pants when they hear words like “cloud”, “sharing”, “openness” and so on. They have their reasons but it doesn’t change the fact.

The right way to act in movement towards a better world with less digital garbage is to lead by example. Act as a role model. Refuse to send a file by e-mail if someone asks you to do so. Politely explain your reasons and offer an alternative – sharing. Secure sharing if necessary.

Become an ambassador of clean e-nvironment and establish a policy of handling data at your workplace. Start small but start smart. Spread the word and explain the reasons. Be patient.

Final word

Huge amount data is downloaded from the Internet every day for entertainment or other reasons. Be it movies as torrents (legal or illegal – doesn’t change the fact or amount of data) or MP3-s or e-books. Don’t be part of that madness! Avoid unnecessary copies. Use streaming and sharing instead.

Can you imagine that everyone who consumes electricity from their wall outlets is forced to store that energy somewhere at their home? I can! This is exactly what downloading reminds me. Lots and lots of energy downloaded and wasted instead of just letting it flow thru and just catch your part from the flow.

Imagine a wind turbine working in and because of the flow of air versus a very big bag that is kept against the wind until it’s full and taken somewhere indoors where the wrong turbine is located. There the bag is pushed empty against that turbine to make it work and again and again and again … Sounds stupid, right?

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