Let’s just get this confession over with: My in box is not empty. At the moment, it contains 16,694 messages. Once, I suppose, my in box must have had a zero message count — maybe back in 1991, when I got my first e-mail account. It has not seen zero since.

Yet I do not struggle to empty my in box. Instead, when I scan new messages, I ruthlessly trash spam or irrelevancies, auto-filter mailing-list messages, and then flag (“label” or tag) any messages that require further response or action. The rest just flow on by after I’ve glanced at them.

My in box is not a desk that must be cleared. It is a river from which I can always easily fish whatever needs my attention. Why try to push the river? Computer storage is cheaper than my time; archiving is easier than deleting.

Scott Rosenberg’s confession puts mine in the shade – I have a mere thousand or so, and am never quite sure whether I should think that that’s a problem.  Gordon Bell goes further still – he is several years into a project to record everything – he

has captured a lifetime’s worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio.

On the basis of a slightly different approach,  researchers at Southampton University recently announced that a lifetime’s record of everything would fit into a storage device the size of a sugar cube.  At Lancaster University, they have calculated that the storage requirement for recording a continuous life long video stream is would accumulate at 3 terabits a year.  Setting that against trends in the size of storage devices, they predict a peak requirement for six hard disk drives after two years – and something roughly the size of a speck of dust by 2070.

Though none of that, of course, addresses the problem of finding anything again later.


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