Thinking out loud

Monday, January 23, 2006

Archive or Delete?

I came across the first “animation” program I'd ever writter, today. It was lying in some obscure corner of my hard-disk (which is quite large). The amazing thing though is not that I found it… its that it was lying around till today, almost 10 years after it was first written. It managed to survive perhaps 5-6 hard-disk changes, atleast 10 computer changes, 3 city changes and a growth from class VI to 4th year at college. You might think that the program survived because it was a first. I thought so too so I fired up a search for all the QBasic programs lying around on my hard-disk. It threw up around 500 programs. Now I stopped writing QBasic programs as long back as 1999. That means that all these programs survived on my hard-disks for atleast 7 years. The message is clear – As long as I have disk space, those programs are not going anywhere.

This was about QBasic programs; maybe something some geek may feel sentimental about. However, it sets one thinking. Why is that we find it so hard to destroy information? If you’ve been computer-friendly long enough, you might find your class XI physics project report lying around somewhere on your disk. Only those unfortunate (fortunate?) enough to have gone through a hard-disk crash would lose that data. Even they have probably started making regular backups of their disks so they are not going to lose anything again.

We seem to have this problem at every level. One of the main “feature” of gmail is – “never have to delete an email”. It sounds lovely, and we grab it. There are people in my department who haven’t deleted a single email from their department email accounts since they entered college – that’s all of 3.5 years and several thousands of emails. What makes us hold on to emails that inform us about cancelled classes – classes that we were to attend 3 years ago? Even so, those emails sit around. Older versions of homepages sit around as gzipped files on our web-servers. Source code of assignment 2 from 5th semester hardware lab is probably sitting around as another gzip file; perhaps multiple copies – one on your computer, another on your department account and yet another on the hostel account.

As the amount of digital information generated (email, blogs, photographs from digital cameras, mp3s and tetris/mine-sweeper highest score records) has exploded, so has storage capacity. In 1994, my computer had a total hard-disk capacity of 120 MBs (yes, MBs) with the operating system occupying about 30 MB (windows 3.11). Today I have 240 GBs of local storage (2000 times in 11 years) + 2.5 GBs of email space on gmail + 500 MB on department servers + webhosting space on tripod/blogger/yahoo… As long as I have this space, I don’t want to hit the delete key. Nobody does.

Will there some day be a limit when we are forced to choose to delete instead of archive? Meanwhile, as the amount of information on our hard-disks keep increasing, there will be increasing number of serendipitous discoveries of our pasts all written down as 0s and 1s.


  • interesting read. & yeah, same holds true for me...... never deleted a mail :D

    & i guarantee that day will never come...... as thats the reason for expansion of HDDs....
    i remember some wise guy telling me:
    Total space required by you= Your HDD capacity + 200 MB :D

    PS: why do we do all these things during midsems only... :( got 2 papers tomorrow...

    By Blogger Swapnil, at 9:53 AM  

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