Digital Hoarding

Not too long ago, a friend of mine referred to me as a “digital hoarder.” He coined the term as a pejorative to refer to my relatively new tendency not to purchase things. While I’m no hoarder, he meant the term as an ironic twist on the show which highlights the people that gather things until they can’t even walk through their house without a bulldozer.

I’ve followed a precisely opposite trajectory. Books, movies and toys that were displayed in my house have been given away or tossed in the trash. I could have turned some coin, but I’ve chosen instead to save that aggravation by giving it to someone who might not be able to afford it in the first place.

It Started With Books

Every book I laid hands on that wasn’t borrowed (and a few that were), sat on shelves to declare to myself and every visitor, “Herein lies the breadth of my knowledge!”

I took care of my books. I purchased archival acid-free cover protectors to preserve select volumes. The further adventures of Luke Skywalker were chosen as the primary recipients of such expensive love.

When Stacey and I moved into our first house and our book collections were consolidated, Stacey’s were carefully segregated to avoid confusion. In retrospect, that said an awful lot about how territorial I remained, focused on the importance of possession.

One day, I realized I’d purchased books at a rate that out-stripped my reading pace. I decided that once I read a book there was no need to keep it. I made an oath I would not buy any more books until I had read through what I had, though like any addict, I slip up. I give away a book as soon as I finish it now, with some exceptions.

The only ones to survive the purge were select Star Wars books and the film novelizations, which sit in the crawlspace until later this year, when I’ll finally have managed my collection to the point where I can read them again and give them away. The only exception will be the one or two that carry special emotional meaning to me.

And since Tom reads this, I promise I’ll also hold onto the Return of the Jedi comic adaptation he gave to me as a gift on my wedding day.

Then The Discs Fell

Blockbuster shopper
Blockbuster was driven bankrupt by having too many DVDs sitting on shelves. I won't have to worry about that problem anymore.
I went through a period where I only purchased DVDs to watch and wouldn’t rent, like Jerry Lewis with socks. My collection was organized as compulsively as the books. It contained movies I didn’t even like. It contained movies that sat in shrink-wrap as I continued amassing titles. It was obscene.

After I did start renting, I grew my collection still. There were a few times I sold off things for quick cash, but my collection approached critical mass.

There was also my CD collection. Even though I transferred everything I could onto computer, I held onto the discs. I kept the discs painfully organized and on display to say to myself and the world, “Look at the breadth of my musical taste!” (Ironically, this very argument was defeated by the simple display of the collection in the first place.)

After the books left, I slowly started winnowing things down.

Then the next format war ended with BluRay, and online rentals and streaming video entered my life. I realized the “Collector’s Edition” of Dogma was not quite the badge of artistic taste I once thought. Indeed, as my tastes changed I realized I no longer even liked the movie. So what need was there to hold onto it? Further, with the format change there’d be “new” editions of…everything. What a drag.

So the CDs got their final push onto the drives and the bulk of the DVDs got liquidated. I held onto certain films, primarily the ones where I get an urge to watch at 9:00 on a Saturday and don’t want to wait, or that have a very specific emotional trigger in them. But I can sense another purge approaching.

Finally Fell the Toys

I just don’t see the point to holding onto half-broken toys on a shelf anymore. I’ve had my childhood, better that a kid grows new memories of their own from such fertile seeds. So the toys have been given away. There are again a select few that are reserved for their emotional appeal, such as a Lego™ set from The Clone Wars that a good friend gave me for a gift.

The Revolution Is Over Before It Began

Tyler Durden
A wise man, though fictional, once said, 'The things we own, end up owning us.' I suppose that I've come to agree with that.

I’ve debated with more than one person that doesn’t understand why I don’t get satisfaction from owning the physical item associated with the content. I’ve encountered some who’re genuinely irked by my actions. To respond, I borrow a sentiment from Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI, “if there’s to be a brave new world…our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.”

We’re the transitional generation that remembers a world dominated by mechanical engineering before computers revolutionized interaction. We’ve had the tactile sensation of possession as a benchmark of our lives.

But by and large, the value of possession is gone for me. It’s tremendously liberating not to have to worry about things as much; I find that certain compulsive behaviors have started to drift away as well.

I’m more interested now in the content than how I receive it. I may not own the disc but I possess ready access to the music; I still have what I want, delivered differently. And if they change the compression rates or formatting, I don’t need to push out a bunch of little plastic discs to sit in a landfill.

I’m always curious, though, if I’ll ever be able to let go completely of everything. I doubt it, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.


5 thoughts on “Digital Hoarding

  1. I wish I had kept some of my very old gaming stuff. I could be a millionaire having sold off everything. The point, I guess, is that there will always be hoarders. When it comes to books, I’ll always enjoy a hand-held copy more than a computer copy. I often print out digital material before I read it. Is that because I’m a human who grew up in the pre-Internet era, or because I’m a human being? Time will tell.

    Or maybe it won’t. At some point, virtual reality will reach new heights, and maybe going into a computer and being able to read a book held in my VR hands will be just as good.

    Technology is on the verge of breaking boundaries we don’t even recognize as there. It will be interesting to learn how much of our resistance to that is nature vs. nurture.

    1. As the technology improves, things get more acceptance. I think that’s the tipping point. The one hurdle I think needs to be overcome with digital books is the ability I have right now to pick up and flip to page whatever-I-want to reference something, and the physical act simply takes less time since I don’t have to turn something on, scroll and process. I can just pick up and look. There’s also the appeal of the visual layout of some books – photo collections, coffee table books – that isn’t quite yet matched.

      But in terms of a magazine, newspaper (snicker…really?) or a paperback I want to consume and be done? Fuggedaboudit!

      As for going into a computer, to quote Dilbert, “I didn’t even need pants!” 🙂

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