Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Delete, No Regret

The number of times when I have regretted deleting information by far exceeds the number of times I have regretted keeping information (I can't even remember ever having regretted that I've kept something).

Yet, the drive to delete information which I don't think I need anymore (based on what I know right now) is so strong. Over the years I have been told and learned that deleting information I no longer have a need for is what any sane person should do. I have been programmed to do so, and executing the deletion program makes me feel good about myself - only to regret it later.

Once you delete something, it might never be found and come to use again. Even if you eventually find it somewhere else, it will likely take considerable time and effort to find it. The truth is you never know if or when you might need a certain piece of information.

In the digital world of ours, information abundance is actually something we can learn to deal with. It is much harder to deal with information scarcity. We need to accept that there is no need to delete information unless it is totally redundant.

I hate realizing that I need a certain piece of information, only to realize that I have deleted it. So, I’ve decided that I won't put up with that again. I will stop deleting stuff.

No delete, no regret.


This post provoced a rather unexpected response from Marc Buyens:
"Yes, we also hate losing stuff, but most of the time, we don’t lose it. We forget that we had it.
In this networked era, finding the relevant document is often much more easy on the web via something like Google than it is via tools such as Evernote, Diigo and other Delicious that we use to keep track of the relevant stuff we find.
So, yes, for convenience, we also keep some archives with recent stuff that is of interest, but we timestamp everything and when due date is there, delete all. No check. No regret."
I can't interpret this response in any other way than that it is based on a misunderstanding. Maybe my post isn't clear enough.

First of all, I am referring to information that is NOT redundant. By that I mean information that does not exist one more than one location, such as on my desktop and on a web page somewhere. That means I am not referring to information that exists somewhere else, such as a blog post or image. I usually don't download or make copies of such information in the first place. I only keep references/pointers to, using services such as Delicious, Tumblr, Twitter and Blogger. Sometimes I extract information from information products, for example grabbing individual slides from presentations and posting them on Tumblr (always with credit and link to the source, if available). I also collect quotes from posts, books or articles. I only download information which is available on the web in very very rare cases. And I never print, unless I need to post something by regular mail to someone.

My post refers to information which is unique. Information which has been created by myself or someone else and which is not available on the web or in a shared space somewhere. I'm talking about personal notes, draft documents, sketches, emails...often half-baked ideas or private conversations. Things I haven't published yet. Things still to be shared.

Marc - I would be grateful if you could find the draft report that I had produced and then deleted by mistake. Obviously someone, in this networked area, has created an exact copy of it that can be found on the web somewhere. Please help me find it and send it to me. 


  1. Hello Oscar,

    Point taken. Yes indeed, with my reply I was more thinking about the shared content or your own content that you are willing to distribute on the web. For your draft report problem, I do not have a solution, but not deleting anything is, for me, not really the solution to the problem. Even with that type of content, I do delete a lot, but I am very strict regarding keeping (generations of) backup copies, physical backups and using web based duplication solutions such as Dropbox or other. No perfect guarantee, but I still like to delete. A powerful feeling.

    Have fun,

  2. I think this information overflow society makes it difficult for those of us that have problems with sorting, structuring, tagging, back-up and so on. The dilemma with deleting stuff, is aslo for me the problem of choosing what to delete. If you take backup of all your content all the time you are actually not deleting anything, or ...?
    I am interested in exformation, a concept where you actually explicitly delete information from communication, but it is there anyhow because you share the same context. From a personal storing perspective this means that it should be OK to delete content that you have "transformed into knowledge" within yourself. That type of information could be quite healthy to delete ...But mostly I/we tend to save a lot of information that "could be good to have in the future" - the problem is only then: where did I store it? If you can´t find it when you need it, then you might as well delete it in the first place ;-)