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.


Last Thursday I performed Mahler 2, The Resurrection Symphony, with a local orchestra and choir.  For the first time in years, the concert was not recorded.  I made sure to pay close attention to what was happening around me, not just because it was the performance, but because I wanted to be able to recall the parts I enjoyed later.  I was left to my own devices to capture the music in ways that couldn’t be reproduced digitally.  The way I felt hearing a duet between the English horn and bass clarinet, the majestic, sonorous sounds of the French horn section and the hushed, sweet entrance of 80+ singers standing behind me.  Luckily, I had two key advantages:

  1. I sit close to the centre of the orchestra. 
  2. I had a lot of rests in my part when I could just relax and enjoy the music around me.  

It was liberating and magical.  Without the recording, I’m free to re-imagine how the music was played, re-inventing sounds and phrases.  My own imagination grants me a certain sense of fluidity and creativity because I am not confined to a digital recording.  I can re-interpret the music so that it will still feel fresh the next time I play it, making new discoveries because I don’t have a fixed idea in my head of how it’s supposed to go, only how I want it to go.

In some ways, I feel lucky that most of my early performances were not recorded.  If I really knew what I sounded like when I first started playing over 20 years ago, I probably would have gotten too discouraged to continue. Now that I hear other beginning musicians I realize why my brother always complained about my practicing.  At the time I blamed it on sibling rivalry, but now I have a different understanding of what was really going on.

I also have very few pictures of myself playing bassoon.  Every time I see one, I remember why I don’t have more.  For a wind player, the only good moment to capture a photo is before we start playing.  Once we’re in motion, it’s just not that attractive.  Judge for yourself in an artist’s rendition of me playing.

Action shot.

Action shot.

Fragmented Discourse & Social Media

I have a very social group of friends.  Every time one of us plans an outing, it always has to be done through email, or maybe text messaging.  The end result is a lot of email threads and random discussion.  If I’m unable to attend the event being planned, I must ignore the emails piling up in my inbox as final details are discussed.  No option exists to remove myself from the conversation.

Social media seems like it should be a great way to make plans, but it doesn’t stand up to other more reliable forms, unless all of your contacts happen to be using the same type of social media and check it regularly.  Inevitably at least one important guest refuses to be on Facebook, or is only on Twitter and everybody else is on Google +.  This is similar to the challenges raised in an earlier post on Fragmented Discourse when making plans.  With more options than ever for communication, why does it still feel so complicated and fragmented sometimes?

With email, it is really easy to add another person to the thread.  You simply add their email address and hit send.  In most cases with social media, however, an additional step is added to the process by requiring you and the recipient to be connected in some way (friend, follow, link, connect, etc.) before making contact.

The benefit of an email address or phone number is that they are all compatible with each other.  It doesn’t matter if I’m thedeletist@gmail or @hotmail or @yahoo, they can all communicate with one another.  The same is true for phone numbers.  The style of phone or carrier doesn’t matter, only the digits, which can be used for calling or texting.

Can the same standard be replicated with social media?  Do we need so many different ways to be contacted and contact others?

I think it’s a little bit crazy that I can be contacted through snail mail, email (multiple accounts), phone (calls & text), and 3 separate social media applications.  I do realize I can invest in some sort of dashboard application to manage everything more effectively, but maybe I should just try to manage less and eliminate some of my accounts.

Would you, or do you, prefer to use social media over email to make plans?