Digital Hoarding

too many photos

It is estimated that five percent of the US population are hoarders. Perhaps you’ve seen them in their cluttered natural habitat on the A&E reality television show Hoarders. If you’ve missed Hoarders, imagine houses full of junk, old newspapers, empty boxes from five years ago, whatever, up to the ceiling. (Confession: I have not seen this show either, as I haven’t had TV/cable since 1996.)

Being labeled a hoarder isn’t just a pejorative. As of May 2013, the DSM-5 includes “compulsive hoarding” as a legitimate disorder, including the following criteria:

  • Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.

I would like to offer an additional criteria:

  • The aversion to losing a moment or experience, which drives the compulsion to over-photo and over-share photos of said moment or experience, thereby missing out on the actual moment or experience, and then keeping all these “experiential possessions” cluttering about.

Digital hoarding afflicts many more people than traditional hoarding because it’s not the fire or safety hazard of ceiling high magazine stacks along a hallway. Also, it’s fun and is encouraged by the gamification in play on popular social media platforms, where broadcasting your “brand” elicits a positively addictive serotonin feedback loop.

You may be asking yourself, “Am I a digital hoarder?” Try this experiment:

Take a trip down memory lane on your favorite online platforms and apps, noting what you posted last week, last month, last year. Exactly what were we thinking when you took the picture? And then, why did you feel the compulsion to broadcast it to the world? And why on earth are you preserving it if it may be deleted? Remember that hoarders have an aversion to discarding that which is of little value. And how much of what we post has value to the future us or society?

Not one to ask anyone to do that which I have not done, this exercise was rather shocking on my first pass.  After wondering who or what had secretly inhabited my brain at one time or another, my account got a good cleaning.  The cluttered junk drawers that were my social media accounts were looking very clean for the first time in years.  And they have stayed that way.

I’m advocating that we all help out a friend or loved one. Pass this post along. Advocate for good taste and high standards, for yourself and those you love, instead of subjecting them and the world to your digital hoarding.

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