What is your worst nightmare? A ghost in the closet? A creepy clown under the bed? Or an endless mountain of digital photos that swallow up your hard drive and can’t be stopped?
To start of this week’s episode of Note to Self, Manoush narrates a harrowing scene over eerie background music in a combination reminiscent of a retelling of a nightmare or a ghost story around a campfire. She describes the case of a 47-year-old man from the Netherlands who is the first person to be described in a published scientific paper as suffering from “digital hoarding.” He spends so much time taking, editing, uploading, and just dealing with thousands of photos that it severely interferes with his daily life. This obsession is not something to be taken lightly. In their paper, “A Case of Digital Hoarding,” scientists argue that digital hoarding, like the hoarding of physical objects, should be considered a new subtype of hoarding disorder.
Technology has made human life infinitely more convenient, fast-paced, and wide-reaching than ever before. But it’s also created problems that definitely did not exist before. If this case of digital hoarding isn’t a prime example, then I don’t know what is.
This episode felt like a short part two to a Note to Self episode that aired a few weeks ago called, “It’s Time to Deal With Your Photo Clutter.” This week, we hear from some of the listeners who tried out the photo organization challenge described in the previous episode, and get some more commentary on the psychological and performance aspects of modern day photo taking and sharing. The questions and implications of digital hoarding are undoubtedly thought provoking, but overall, I was a bit disappointed to hear another episode on a topic that Note to Self has essentially already covered. At just a few seconds shy of 11 minutes in length, it did not feel like a fully fleshed out episode so much as an addendum to the previous episode on photo clutter.
Social media encourages us to curate a public image for ourselves that is often distant from reality. One listener featured in this week’s episode expressed concern that she would be seen as boring by her peers if she did not document and post pictures of her interacting socially with other people. It’s perplexing to me that we are each cognizant of and can relate to that pressure to appear social and beautiful and worldly, but still tend to take other people’s pictures and postings at face value. Do we each think we are the only ones carefully selecting and editing photos before posting them? If we accepted that every person’s feed goes though some winnowing process or another, and the unedited version of peoples’ lives can’t possibly be that picture perfect, would we still look at one others’ Instagram feeds and feel like we’re missing out?
About halfway through the episode, Manoush admits that she has resigned herself to the fact that her photos will never be beautifully labeled and organized (4:44). And then a few minutes later, she poses the question that I think is really key to organizing our photos, and which she has asked previously: what is the ultimate purpose of taking photos? The answer is subjective. Is the satisfaction of pressing a button or tapping a screen to capture a moment inherently valuable, even if we never go back to look at the picture we just took? Note to Self seems to conclude that it’s really just up to you.
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