Yesterday when my son and resident IT expert was showing me how to perform some supposedly simple computer task involving a cute little cloud icon, he made a rather disparaging comment about my organizational skills. My desktop, he informed me, was “a mess.”
This from someone whose bedroom floor has not been seen since 2005.
It’s true that my desktop was wall-to-wall document files, PDFs, web links, JPGs, etc. I tend to work with digital information the way I do with paper-based stuff. I want it out there where I can see it. I’m afraid that if I put it in a file I will never find it again.
Lots of people share this fear of filing. Researchers observing the ways office workers interact with paper documents have found healthy populations of “pilers”–people whose main organizational method involves surrounding themselves with apparently haphazard but personally meaningful piles of information.
Net-Geners, however, have grown up in a world where information can be found and lost and found again in two clicks or less, using a name or a number or a meta-tag or a string of words typed into Google. My son can be fearless about filing away his music, photos, and homework assignments because he’s got tools like iTunes and Flickr and Spotlight to locate exactly what he wants, precisely when he wants it.
In his latest book, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, author David Weinberger extols the benefits of this brave new world where people can organize content any way they want, and never have to learn the Dewey Decimal system. Freed from its physical constraints, information can float happily, the way my desktop files now do, in that cute little cloud.