My digital life


Replacement filing cabinet

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in the process of digitising my life, which seems very 2011. (Amid much speculation about what I’m doing with my life, digitising it hasn’t been one of the popular answers.) So, what is it?

Allegedly we live in the digital age (among a plethora of other ages). For some time now we’re meant to be heading towards a paperless office. Of course, as anyone who has actually worked in an office knows, there is more paper now than ever before. In fact you could argue that the coming of the digital age has only led to greater wastage of paper (largely due to the still plentiful luddites who insist on printing their emails and suchlike). But I digress…

In theory the masses of paper we consume are meant, someday, to be replaced by digital, ‘soft’ versions. In a sense the ebooks we read on a Kindle etc are an example of that. In theory an email in digital form replaces a letter. There’s never going to be digital toilet paper, but pretty well everything else is fair game.

Like most people I have amassed a mountain of paperwork over the years. I have a three drawer filing cabinet full to the brim, a couple of in-trays overflowing with stuff, as well as myriad documents stored randomly and fallen down the side of the desk/in the bottom drawer/pinned to the fridge, and so on. Now much of this debris is out of date and no longer required, but as I don’t have a professional filing system and someone dedicated to managing it then I simply accumulate without archiving anything. Bad enough as that may be, the real concern is when I actually need to find something. Now there’s a hair raising experience.

I’m meant to be tech savvy. I’m supposedly an IT professional, not to mention some sort of business whiz. If I can go around barking orders at businesses who pay me big dollars for the privilege (yeah, right) then surely I can get my own digital house in order? And so finally I figured I moved with the times and get digitised.

I run a Mac at home and some time ago invested in Devon Office Pro, which is meant to be absolutely primo when it comes to this kind of organisational software. I’d hardly used it, but after I upgraded it to the top version I got digitising.

First thing I did was actually transfer all the variety of soft files stored randomly on my Mac into the program, creating folders to store them, applying tags, and smart folders to automatically to shift this document there. I basically divided my life into sections: the business stuff; Reference, which included interesting stuff I’d read over the years, how to do this and that, etc; Personal Finance, which includes all my investment stuff, tax, etc; Personal, which is correspondence, family stuff, medical stuff, random memories and so on; and Recipes – the million and one recipes I’ve collected over the years. All done I suddenly had quite an extensive database of information searchable at my fingertips, all cross-referenced and governed by rules. Lovely stuff.

Next was actually converting hard copies to soft – the magic of digitisation. I have a flatbed scanner on my Canon Pixma, but it’s slow and inefficient to use. That was my excuse to grab something I’ve had my eye on for sometime: the Fujitsu Scansnap S1300, a very cute, very cool, very portable scanner. Shopping around I bought it on Amazon for about $200 less than I’d pay for it here and it was all good.

That now sits on the edge of my desk hungering to do more. Slip a piece of paper in it, press the blue button and, hey presto, a couple of moments later it pops up in Devon ready to be tagged and sorted.

Now I have a mountain of stuff to get through, and I’m not about to rush it, but I’ve already come across some interesting stuff.

I’ve been poking around in boxes sealed for yonks extracting stuff I want and turfing the stuff I don’t. It’s a little like archaeology, wherein every box represents a different strata of relics representing another era of my life. In one rich layer I found a bunch of correspondence dating back to the late nineties largely addressed to different women.

As you might imagine it was fascinating to stop and read through this. As I did I found many fond memories return, and one or two gentle regrets. Overall is was a pleasant experience as I recalled moments I had forgotten in the years since, or found fresh in my minds eye the desired object of my affections back in the day. I wondered where they were now, and once or twice with the benefit of wisdom wished I’d done differently. A couple of times I really had to scratch my head thinking, now which one was she?

Opening another box I hit a much earlier period, the late eighties. I hesitate to remember how I was then. I was young, I was pretty fit and, for a while, pretty good to look at. Nothing wrong there, but I was also pretty callow really, which is hard to avoid at that age. Though I figured I had all the answers I can smile now knowing that I knew fuck all. I fell in love for the first time back then, but in between times was typical of my age and sex: competitive, hungry, and full of beans. I found amid the scraps of paper a list I’d doodled at work. On it were the names of about 8 girls with little comments beside them – pros and cons if you like, for past and present. Present as they may have been in my life then, a good half of them eluded the grasp of my memory now.

I was very much a note-maker. I’d scribble passing thoughts or observations. I’d write exhortations to myself, affirmations of what I wanted, what I expected of life; and at times described the intimate details of that fine life I aspired to. I wrote letters too later on, to women I had loved but had passed by. They were full and complete letters poring out my thoughts and fears and hopes to girls now gone – mainly Berni – never intending to ever post them. It may seem vaguely weird reading that now, even a little pathetic, but I beg to differ. As I went on with my life, battling through the trials and tribulations of it, the letters I wrote to those women represented a kind of wise other self. I wrote the things I could never say; expressing myself like that was a way of getting these things out of me: they were a very conscious form of therapy.

Now the question I ask myself is: do I digitise these too? I’m a perfectionist in many ways, and that extends to striving towards completeness. These documents are a legitimate part of my life, they should be there if I intend to chart the true course of the journey I have taken. I don’t much care what people think, or what these things say of me: I can’t be apologetic for how I’ve lived, good, bad or indifferent, it’s the truth I have no interest in brushing aside. And regardless of the twists and turns, they are authentic signposts on the journey that has brought me to this very place today. Why would I ignore them?

It’s a question I seriously asked myself because there was an urge to put them aside, like love letters that should be kept, unread, in a camphor wood box tied in a ribbon. Does doing something as crassly modern as digitising these relics make them somehow cheaper, more common? There seemed something basically brutal and insensitive in the process: you put a heartfelt missive in the one end of a machine, and out the other pops your words converted into pixels. Should such personal stuff be filed and indexed? Don’t documents like this, scraps, memories, juvenile ruminations, unsent love letters, belong stuffed in a box rather than transformed into a digital images?

There feels some truth to that, and yet I decided to go ahead. This is my life. Boxes get lost, paper gets mistaken for trash and gets thrown out, and besides, here, properly filed, I can trace the trajectory of my feelings and thoughts through the years, the ebbs and flows of desire and maturity, the illusions I indulged myself in. Here it can make sense (as it rarely does otherwise).

I’ve got a very long way to go until I digitise everything. And though I may make a digital copies, I will keep the original handwritten version as well, for historical, sentimental reasons, rather than shredding them with the rest.

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