We are digital hoarders. Some of us make plans for the custody of our accounts after death, but our online legacy is mostly trash. It’s decades’ worth of political rants and throwaway jokes on social media; a lifetime of purchase receipts on Amazon; and a Gmail account overflowing with promotional emails and mundane paperwork. Whatever gems might be hiding there, they’re impossible for others to find.
These hoards bring us more anxiety than joy. We don’t reminisce about old utility bills, and we don’t revisit the transcripts of minor online disputes from bygone years. Instead, we worry what would happen if this trove of personal information fell into the hands of scammers, digital extortionists, or a cancel mob on a prowl for off-color high school jokes.
About a decade ago, I embarked on a radical experiment. I started summarily deleting all social media hot takes, emails, and other routine records past their expiration date. For Twitter or Reddit, where most discussions die down in a matter of hours, few posts deserved to stay up longer than a couple of days. For email, I hand-tagged the few documents worth keeping, and nuked everything else past the one year mark. I never looked back.
The experiment also made me realize that it’s up to me to curate a more meaningful online legacy. By that, I don’t mean amassing a collection of Instagram-esque postcards or hitting a million subscribers on YouTube. I mean a private record of what made my life interesting, messy, and unique.
Among other things, I started bringing a video camera with me on routine trips — say, a weekend drive to the beach. I had no script: I recorded short takes of normal activities, perhaps 10-20 seconds long. Back home, I’d sit down and piece them together into 2-5 minute videos. The plot didn’t matter: it was the zeitgeist of our lives. The sights, the sounds. Kids hitting each other with sticks, collecting bugs, chasing a dog.
By now, I have a library of several dozen clips. I keep coming back to them and I have no doubt that they will be cherished keepsakes for my kids too. I don’t normally publish them, but to give you a taste, here’s a recent one:
It is not meant to get retweets or win acclaim. It’s intimate and goofy. But it tells a story that the utility bills or purchase receipts in my email account never could.
When I don’t have a camera with me, I sometimes whip out my phone. Then, before I post a short video to Snapchat or Facebook, I save a local copy — and by the end of the year, I sit down and splice all them into a video collage of sorts.
I encourage you to give it a try.
Why delete when you can archive? Most of the costs of maintaining a digital stockpile are fixed, so not much more expensive to keep everything rather than just some things. You never have to browse the archived items, but they are always available for searching and mining. And someday soon I think you will be able to unleash AI on this massive pile of low-yield memory ore to refine out some precious nuggets.
Google marketing agrees with you!