Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tech Column: A Digital Diet

by Bill Adler

I discovered something. I subscribe to a lot of podcasts, but only listen to one. I'm not exactly sure how this realization crossed my mind, but when I unsubscribed to and deleted all the podcasts that I don't listen to, I freed up nearly 2 gigabytes on my iPhone.

Might I want to listen to or watch one of those podcasts one day while waiting in line at the DMV? Perhaps, but not today and not tomorrow.

I recently took a close look at the apps on my iPhone and found that not only were there some apps that I used just once, but there were apps that I hadn't a clue about what they did. Each of those apps is now gone.

My iPhone wasn't running out of space, but these podcasts and apps were still getting in the way, like a sock in the sock drawer that you never wear but you have to paw past to get to the ones that don't have holes in them. These unneeded podcasts and apps were showing up in search and populating folders, making it harder to find what I really enjoy or need, and giving my phone a weighed-down, cluttered feel. Removing this clutter may not make my iPhone run faster, but it makes me faster.

When I looked at my email and thought about the seemingly infinite space that Google provides, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. Until I searched for a particular email by keyword and found that all sorts of ancient garbage came up, too, cluttering my search results. So I went all crazy and deleted something like 25,000 emails using a variant of the same search that cluttered my search results in the first place. My email searches are now faster, and my entire email collection feels lighter.

I tackled some photos with the same vigor, too. Not family or vacation photos, but stuff that I'd clipped and saved from various websites over the eons, on the assumption that I had virtually unlimited storage space. I don't even remember why I saved a dozen photos of suspension bridges from Europe.

Several years ago I ripped every CD I owned, downloaded free music from promotional websites, and collected other music without listening to it, all because I could. I thought I'd acquire now and decide if I liked it at some point down the road. Years later, I realized that, no, I don't want to listen to Justin Bieber wannabes. I don't even want to listen to Justin Bieber. All that music was extra bits and bytes that iTunes had to sort through when I wanted to listen to something that I actually like. All that music was stuff that begged to be organized in some way -- in a playlist, by rating, by genre.

The scary part about deleting digital stuff is that you don't really know if you'll ever need it again. You can be pretty sure, but you can also be very wrong. I've been that in both the digital and physical worlds. Still, a lighter digital load can make your life easier, just like not having to wade through clothes in your closet that you'll never wear again (or, to be more honest, can't wear again), can make getting ready to go out and easier, faster, and a happier experience.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft . He tweets at @billadler.

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