How afraid are you that you will leave no trace?

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Tuesday, 10.06pm

Sheffield

We’re trusting our memories to others in a way that has never been done before.

We used to live in a world where we had stuff – diaries, papers, photographs. These objects held memories for us.

Now, we live and record memories using our devices – and those devices are merely a way to see what actually lives somewhere else – in vast data centres run by huge corporations.

This seems like a good thing.

We’ve replaced cluttered desks and bulging filing cabinets with clean, neat online storage.

Or have we?

Have we really just shoved all that clutter into a bottomless filing cabinet.

Most of us now probably have 10 years or more of emails, thousands of documents and tens of thousands of photographs.

We don’t need to throw anything away – there is no need to sort, sift, shred or save anything – it’s all just there – always.

And that creates its own problem.

When there too much of something, it’s accompanied by a lack of something else.

Too much digital clutter is accompanies by a lack of time to do anything with it.

I have a small box of thing that belonged to my grandfather. An Army service record. A name badge. A telephone book with the numbers of people he knew. A school report.

Most families have a few things that date from three or four generations ago. A photograph of the family on holiday. A portrait of the children. A wedding album.

Now – we have every second of our lives captured digitally.

If we don’t keep that information in a form that our children’s children can access, it will simply be lost.

And that’s the advantage of paper – printed photos, written documents.

But, we don’t need to think generations ahead.

Recently, I needed to find a reference number for a form. That number had been created ten years ago. I had no digital trace.

I had a paper record though. It took some time to find, but it was there and I could do something with it.

On the other hand, stuff that I stored digitally is gone. I created it, put it on a drive and it may or may not exist somewhere.

I wonder if we’ll wake up in ten years and find big chunks of our memories missing. Perhaps a company that holds them goes bust. Perhaps hard drives fail. Perhaps we just forget where we put stuff.

There’s a brilliant ad showing how all the things that used to be on a desk disappear and are incorporated into a phone – the calendar, the phone, the notebook – everything.

It’s clear that this is fabulous – the desk is completely clear. All you need is a computer.

But… imagine that desk without the computer…

What is left?

And is that all you really want to leave?

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