Given my profession and personality, I’m a bit surprised at myself for having so many uncategorized posts and only 1 keyword (or tag), zombie.  When I started The Deletist, I decided that the blog would be my creative space where I could write freely without judging myself.  In keeping alignment with this goal, I didn’t want to create hierarchical categories before I knew what I would want to write about.  I felt it might make me feel restricted in some way.  Nor could I just haphazardly start creating categories without a sense of the whole vision.

A proper classification scheme, in this case my hierarchical blog categories, follow certain rules.  I can’t properly create a sustainable scheme without following the rules or knowing the subjects I will choose to write about.

Some terms felt really obvious to me, such as Social Media, and then nesting specific social media apps underneath. But I can already see where my adhoc structure will fail me if I ever blog about Google+, which could rightfully belong underneath Google and Social Media.  A further source of frustration for me was coming up with categories to describe the many posts I have about deletion, destruction, and purging.  Is this really a category?  It feels more like an action than a category.

This is a perfect example of how keywords could be really useful, if I had more than one.  They can be a terrific way to start developing defined categories by looking for common terms and naturally developing patterns.  I don’t really have any excuse for not assigning keywords other than that it just escaped my radar.

I think my own dilemmas highlight some common challenges people have in organizing their documents and information. It’s difficult to develop an organizational method for items without first understanding what is there or knowing what will be created in the future.  And since nobody can predict the future, it becomes really challenging to create a scheme that will address everything created at that moment, but still be flexible and fluid enough to accommodate anything new.

I have to confess that after I finished the draft of this blog, I decided to add a new category, “deletion”, which took care of many previously uncategorized postings.  Is that cheating? I’m not sure, but I decided to be a bit more creative and less judgemental with my blog categories for the moment.  At some point I’ll get bothered enough and just redo everything.

Facebook Stalker

My friends recently informed me that I’m a Facebook stalker.  Imagine my shock since I hardly use it! When I login to Facebook I occasionally look at things such as comments, pictures, and articles, that my friends have posted.  That’s what Facebook is there for, right?  To share everything good, sweet, or funny that happens.  However, when I go in and look, I never leave comments or “like” anything, so this, according to my friends, is what makes me a FB stalker.  I’ve read a lot of articles about Twitter etiquette, but I never heard anything about FB etiquette requiring people viewing profiles to leave comments or “likes” behind.  In my defense, I think if people are uncomfortable having their lives on display, they shouldn’t post it online where it’s publicly available.

On FB it’s quite common for people to state their relationship status such as “single” or “in a relationship with…” on their profile page.  However, when a breakup happens, people are now required to update the status in addition to dealing with the split.  I recently read an article instructing people on how to update their FB relationship status without sending out a notification to friends or having it posted on a timeline.

What’s the point of taking the extra steps?  Isn’t FB for sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly?  If somebody just went through a breakup, wouldn’t s/he want people to know to get support?  If the relationship status was being changed from “single” to “in a relationship”, would people also be interested in keeping this information from being posted?

It’s interesting to reflect on the message that’s subtly being conveyed.  It’s fine to share things that are considered good, fun, or exciting, but when something perceived as negative happens, like a breakup, then the same rules of sharing don’t apply.

One of the main reasons for using social media is to share and disseminate information to large groups of people.  Yet, it often seems that we are only supposed to share things that make our lives look desirable or enviable.  Most social media applications will only allow you to “like” or “favorite” something, but very few of them actually allow you to dislike something.  And sometimes the interpretation can be pretty odd. People will often “like” something as a way of showing support (or maybe just to prove that they read it to avoid “FB stalker” status), but what if the “like” is for something really awkward like a funeral?

On Display 24/7

I think part of the reason why I don’t engage with social media more is because I always feel horribly self-conscious about posting things publicly and leaving a trail behind.  I strive to be a minimalist and this includes creating casual, random content on social media that lingers around. To me, this seems contrary to my own communication habits.  As an extrovert, I’m accustomed to speaking and then thinking about what I said after, and sometimes for a very long time after if my filter wasn’t on.  When posting on social media, or even on this blog, I agonize before publishing anything because I know that it’s on display and will likely be retained for a longer period than my comfort level would like.

I’ve seen a big difference in my daily interactions with other humans and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of all the electronic communication.  When interacting with another human digitally, via texting, email, social media, etc., a lot of elements are missing such as facial cues, body language, tone, and inflection.  It’s just not possible to replace all of these physical elements with emoticons, punctuation, and italicized, or bolded, text.  So now when I communicate with people face-to-face, I notice they don’t like to make eye contact as often, the attention span is shorter and there’s a heightened sense of awkwardness about the whole affair.

I also notice people hanging out together and not talking because they’re all on their devices.  I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re all having a conversation through texting or IMing, even though they’re in close proximity to one another.  Communicating digitally affords a person the time and space to think and reflect about what s/he wants to say before hitting the send button.  It means responses can be carefully crafted to sound witty, cool, intelligent, or insert adjective here, all the time.  I don’t know about anybody else, but that sounds like a lot of pressure to me.

I’m a talker by nature, as exemplified by my extroverted personality.  I might not always say the most appropriate things, or have the wittiest, coolest responses to everything, but my words are authentic.  And it’s not recorded, for the most part, so I don’t feel self-conscious because I can say what I need to say without leaving a digital trail behind me.

Deleting Accounts: Email

For the last three months I’ve been closing down one email account and transferring everything over to another account.  I haven’t changed my email address in over 10 years and I’m quite surprised at how complex and daunting this task seems.  In some ways it feels even more onerous than updating phone numbers and addresses during a move since email is connected in more ways.  It’s used for multiple purposes such as:

Highlights some of the many ways email is integrated into our daily lives.

Highlights some of the many ways email is integrated into our daily lives.


Changing my email address requires me to:

  • Notify all my contacts, sometimes multiple times. 
  • Determine which accounts use the old email address for subscriptions/newsletters, logins, contact information, and password recovery.
    • Access each account to update the necessary information.
  • Save important emails from old account by forwarding or downloading them.
  • Maintain old account for undefined period of time.  Inevitably I will forget to update one account or contact.  
  • Forward email from old account to new account for any new arrivals.

Email usage feels so casual most of the time, that I sometimes forget how much work is involved to maintain it.  Or how easy it is to connect it to so many different aspects of my life.  Or how easy it is to have so many different email accounts.  Including personal and professional email addresses, I have about seven separate ones, though I’m in the process of closing down two of them.

I don’t mind having separate email accounts because each one serves a different purpose.  I do mind not being able to check them all in one centralized location.  The next phase of my email account cleanup will be researching options to have them all in one place so I can check everything at the same time.

The Art of Deletion

Many people view destruction as something negative and this viewpoint is not entirely unfounded.  After all when we hear about destruction it’s usually accompanied by violence, a natural disaster, or something with a negative connotation.  It’s the kind of action that makes people squirm and get uncomfortable.  “What if we need it?” they ask as my fingers hover over the red DESTROY button.

At times like these I am reminded of something my aunt told me when she worked as a librarian.  Any decent library regularly weeds their collection of items (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.) to ensure that they are circulated and current.  Check out this website, Awful Library Books, if you want to see what happens when libraries don’t regularly weed the collection.

My aunt told me that sometimes her staff felt squeamish about removing books from the collection.  She used to have conversations with them about the importance of weeding that went something like this:

Staff: What if somebody comes in and asks for the book I removed?

My aunt: Tell them that you’re sorry but they’re a day too late.  It’s been removed from the collection.

Sometimes I feel like we should adopt the same habit to regularly weed our own collections of stored information.  When we can’t find something we can tell ourselves, “Sorry, but we’re too late” and move on with our lives.  I do realize there’s a big difference between a library book and a document, but the basic idea is still there behind the action of purging regularly.

Routinely weeding, or purging, allows us to observe another side of destruction that is often overlooked. When I destroy, or get rid of, stuff I only think about all the space I’m making for new things. In fact my approach, as The Deletist, is to focus on what I need to save so that I feel confident about destroying (or getting rid of) everything else.

To destroy things artfully it’s important to learn a few tricks.

  1. Ask yourself if anybody is going to die if you get rid of something and you don’t have it later on the small chance you might need it.
  2. Save strategically.  Pay attention to what you need in your professional and personal lives.  Focus your energy and resources on saving and managing these things. Get rid of the rest.
  3. Establish criteria based on observations of your usage and needs. Don’t waffle on it.  For example libraries weed books based on how often they get checked out.  A book with poor circulation will be removed to make space for something more popular.
  4. Set aside time to go through your things (clothes, email, documents, etc.) and try out your criteria.
  5. Start with something easy.

Happy purging.


Let’s Keep Everything, Just In Case

I hear this phrase a lot in both my personal and professional life. I’m continually amazed at the reticence people have to delete anything digital, especially email.  It’s not uncommon for me to see email accounts with thousands of read/unread messages. Whenever I suggest that a large amount of the emails could, in fact, be deleted, the users often resist.  Here are some common justifications:

  • I need those.  One time x years ago I needed something and luckily it was still in my email.
  • I never know what I’m going to need so I like to save everything, just in case.

Whenever I hear this I always like to ask “just in case of what?” My mind immediately thinks about just-in-case scenarios where hoarding and mismanaging emails is detrimental.

Just in case my email account gets hacked I want to know exactly what was compromised.  Often when people save everything they don’t know, or remember, exactly what’s stored in their email account.  

Just in case I want Google to learn even more about my habits by analyzing the content of my emails. The more information I keep, the more data companies have to analyze. For the moment the intention is to create targeted advertising, but who knows what else can be done with the data in the future.

Just in case I need something later that I didn’t realize I would need. This reason probably has the most weight with users because it illustrates the unknown. Deleting emails scares people because they don’t want to get in trouble later for not having something or they need a CYA paper trail.  However, understanding how to recognize (and create) emails of value and practicing strategic saving can help to combat this mentality.

A few months ago I had a conversation with an IT guy who saves all his email.  He felt justified because storage is cheap and he never knew when he would need something.  I pressed for an example and he told me about a time when he had to reinstall MS Office on his computer and the information was in a 2-year-old email.  He spent ~10-15 minutes searching for the right email.  I pointed out that this scenario is a perfect example of strategic saving.  I would have saved that email someplace obvious because that’s valuable information and not wasted time searching.

In my opinion, people tend to fixate on the few times when saving something for an excessive period of time ended up being beneficial as a justification to save everything all the time. However, to only focus on these exceptions negates all the other times when something was purged and never needed again.