Data Storage - Effects of Growing Digital Capacities
Response to sorting my digital weight – an observation into our growing digital weight & the impacts it may bring to our general lifestyle
This is a response to another article written by Asmita Dixit, which I recommend reading first to get a better understanding of the context to this blog post. You can read it here.
A comparison of digital weight & physical weight i.e. spring cleaning
“Digital Age” as a term is commonly understood by many to reflect how we live our lives now but the implication is quite profound when we compare what was before the digital age. It would be quite comical to call the previous age “the physical age” in contrast to now but maybe the importance isn’t in naming an era of human time but what we gained and what we might lose.Every year now, we accumulate greater and greater amounts of photos, files, media, video and audio recordings of varied content. This could be family photos, important legal documents or social media posts. One great boon we get from our digitisation is our ability to store all of this online or digitally. Whereas before, we stored our family photos in photobooks, our legal documents in huge binders and messages to friends through paper letters. Now, Outlook stores our emails, our tiny phones hold our photos and our legal docs are held in online boxes. So that is what differentiates our “physical” and our “digital” transition.
This brings me to the heat of this puzzling question, 'What are the implications of our digital transition?'. This elicited my curiosity after seeing the point about “digital weight”, which I think fantastically describes the issue at hand.
The runaway effect of growing digital capacities in our hoarded items
Picture this - whereas before, we annually perform our “spring cleaning” routine in our physical homes in order to clean up the house and throw away any sedentary objects. Now, if all these objects were digitised, would we not do the same to these objects? Let us define this as “weight” we have accumulated in our homes. I think everyone agrees, we hoard stuff we don’t actually need! This is because we as humans perceive value in wildly subjective, sometimes contradictory ways.
So every year we go shopping, we slowly accumulate lots of stuff that we bring into our homes. Now, the value and use of this varies from person to person but on average, it isn’t a stretch to say we definitely all have things we must inevitably throw away. This could be broken appliances or outdated tools. Nevertheless, this leads to our home’s gaining “physical weight”. This could create a strange equilibrium imbalance in what value we add into our lives.
Imagine for each item brought into our home, it adds a given value into our lives. However, inevitably this item “decays” either by breaking, lack of use etc. for whatever reason, it becomes waste. Eventually overtime, the more we attempt to build up move value in our lives, the more waste we potentially bring; equivalent or even less than equal to the value the item originally brought. For example, your toaster exploded, you would spend more on repairing it if that's possible. It would be cheaper to buy a new toaster.
Now parallel this with the digital side, the exact same thing happens! We steadily accumulate so much digital rubbish in the shape of files, photos, songs and videos; that eventually we must start tossing some of it out because our phones and computers have limits. Once those limits are reached, we must then begin the process of cutting our digital weight. But why does it get so bad sometimes?
Like mentioned before, we hoard for various reasons, that consequently means we must sort out our hoard now or later. Adding to that equation, once our physical and digital space is finite, we have to find time to organise ourselves, just like spring cleaning! This impacts on our lives with the hassle of spending more time organising than accumulating. At this rate, we might be spending more time in managing rather than creating. Now, why is this significant? Unlike diamonds, humans aren’t forever. They can’t just spend all their time organising themselves, they have things to create! This is why this digital weight issue might become an important topic of interest in the future. We said our devices have limits. How frustrating it would be to constantly manage the storage of our photos instead of continuously hoarding. Most of us aren’t lucky. We’re not the best at organising ourselves, we aren’t robots.
So, what if there were no limits? This is an additional problem. When we accumulate so much data, this will ultimately overwhelm us. The more we record every detail of our lives, the more we will forget. At that point, what do you really remember about yourself? There’s just too much information! At that point, Google probably knows more about your family holiday trips than you!
“Digital bust” overload of too much information, data to store & organisation
So, two things we have to balance - one great advantage we get from accumulating digital weight is how much we can store beyond our homes but we must be mindful if we do hit those limits, that we must spend time to organise that weight. Secondly, if we don’t hit that limit, we must be mindful we don’t overwhelm ourselves with too much raw data unorganised and left as that, will become sedentary and lose value. Therefore, the balancing act is to periodically reduce your digital weight and sustain a productive line of valuable digital weight without going “digitally bust” from too much unorganised weight.
Worst issue: Digital Obsolescence
Now, here comes the biggest problem we may come to face - "digital obsolescence". This is where our digital media is lost due to digital decay, newer devices or the “death” of compatible means to access previous data. This whole area is all to do with the wonderful world of data and is enormous to say the least. But what is relevant is the worry of our photos being corrupted or lost in dusty PCs over time, given that the lifespan of current storage hardware spans as much as 10 years to as little as a year. This is why the innovation of cloud storage is such a blessing to our lives but I warn you, the cloud isn’t owned by YOU. So, you are trusting a much greater power to hold your data! With that said, this could be one fast way to lose your digital weight, if it just went away by itself!
The similarities to complexities in computer systems i.e. regression test frameworks
An extra side-point in addition to this, is how this parallels the way we test or develop our systems. To assure our products, we make a small checklist of tests known as “regression tests” and every time we build on top of our product, we run those tests. For every additional feature, we may feel obliged to carry out more regression tests. After all, it’s logical to add more to cover the new stuff. But without a good clean approach, you may end up adding more and more unnecessary tests to this list to the point that you’ve made such a huge repo of test cases that you now have to go back, manage and maintain. Maybe we can coin this as “test weight”?
In conclusion, it’s all down to strategy, like in test, where test strategy and test approach are needed to streamline our direction and cut off assumptions. Eventually, what will become of our digital property if say the cloud accidently blew up? Our information seems so secure and yet so fragile, perhaps some reflection for each of us needs to be the first step in realising what we think has value and coming up with our own habits best suited to our lifestyles.