Digital Debris and Social Landfill


The results of our digital trails, make up much of the data flows that create the abundance of digital debris we struggle with in our everyday lives. At work we carry out tasks using all kinds of information systems, in order to accomplish our daily work practice, be you a teacher, doctor, or a researcher like me.

Content Debris

In the brilliant book Information Diet, it becomes very evidident that we are becoming obese in the way we consume and create information. And the only way to survive, is to constrain our irrational behavior with pragmatic organising principles, so that we as individuals can understand ourselves, and more importantly the social context where we act- be it at work, in a team or at home, figuring out how to balance between the life of social online domains with that of real-life experiences.

In other domains of our life, we practice simple organising principles for shared social resources e.g. the wardrobe where we manage our clothes, or the refrigerator where we store our food. Most families have unwritten rules on how these shared resource collections should be used. The resources (clothes) in the wardrobe are sorted and categorised depending on the owner of the resource, type of garment and its function. We may also add further structure according to seasonal use and have an occasionally sort out to dispose of the worn out resources. These same resources then will have completely different organising principles dependent upon their resource description, fabric type or cleaning instructions. It is not likely that every family will have the same organising principles for each use case of every ‘resource’.

The same goes with food. If food isn’t organised according to its lifecycle, it will eventually start to rot. Differences from the shared family view of how to organise this food collection can lead to heated discussions, no kidding! This is real-life experience for most of us. And when we are about to use and consume the food, we have the further recipe instructions to use as organising principles. The same set of resources that were in the fridge, the become governed by completely different set of organising principles.

Most physical resources then have storage constraints! In the digital domain however resources don’t go off, and we just tend to upgrade our cloud service plan to add (hoard) even more data. Think of our typical collection of digital photos created daily, using all sorts of devices, and then shared on several different platforms. Most of us tend to add yet another couple of TBs of lovely photos when space runs out and we put off the day when we are going to try and sort this landfill….probably not before retirement. Thankfully Google+ have added photo services to guide and help us in this quest, by adding usage patterns and resource descriptions (meta data) captured when each device takes a picture.

At work, most organisations try to enforce good practice and pragmatic organising principles. But I dare to say it, in most cases these fail. Firstly, different platforms do not or cannot share interoperable services at all levels. Secondly, most users, including myself, do not comply with the said policies and behave ‘irrationally’ in order to fulfil short-term wins – just like the way we store our private photos then! So should we just add more storage and get better search?

If we consider the simple inverted pyramid for communications, it should be easy to see the signs if you adhere to the pragmatic organising principles set for a given digital platform within the digital workplace. You can spend days preparing a slide-deck with nice figures, data and a compelling narrative. But then when faced with filing the presentation, you tend to ignore any simple rules for adding resource descriptions to the content. In most cases, if the system is user-friendly, this shouldn’t even take a minute to complete.

You probably expect that the IT department at work will just buy another bigger search engine to allow the further management of building resources and let you continue to ignore resource description. Well the thing is, this won’t help… you will just end up adding more to the digital landfill. This is well-illustrated in this recent Q&A with Martin White

“Well why can’t we just have Googlish services inside our digital workplace? Or maybe just let the NSA or other Government agencies to store and find patterns in our digital trails?

I would much rather flip the coin, and address the way we create digital landfill. In a utopian future, all devices you use daily will understand what you aim at doing, and will guide you through your provision process. In the meantime, we could simply add the most obvious things to our foraging of data and information.

  • Add relevant resource descriptions (metadata) that address the is-ness, and about-ness of the content
  • Lifecycle to all things, when is it time to trash things, and could it be a good idea to trash beforehand? less is more in all this.
  • Adhere to the agreed social contracts either in your private sphere or at work. When being at work you actually get paid to behave in a good manner. And activities at work is sometimes tedious and boring…”
  • And lastly, all software vendors and online service in the information management space that makes up the enterprise information landscape. Have to address semantics or continue to create IS/IT-legacy stigma.  Simply be making all ways of digital provision aligned to linked-data paradigm shift without putting us end-users into peril!

These are simple steps, but add in collaborative ways of working and you will find that other uses of your information and data, may result in other resource descriptions being added, according to the new context. It is like the food and clothes allegories mentioned previously. In this case it is a more fluid content experience that we are all see emerge. Something starts from its source/origin but ends up as a sea of data (read Big Data). If simple rules are applied for the ‘raw material,’ it may be possible to link your data with that of others, the same way that linked-data-cloud and the semantic Web are emerging.

At the end of the day, you want to find the right ingredients to prepare your family dinner, and find the right information needed to make well-informed decisions at work.

  • The future relies on interoperability, on all levels, not only technical device specific, but rather semantic and social grounded interoperability with sound governance for all data fed to us everyday!

A highly recommend The Discipline of Organizing, a brillant book and online experience for anybody interested in pragmatic organising principles

 

4 Responses to Digital Debris and Social Landfill

  1. […] tools, since each facet of group work and context have different agreed upon tools and organising principles of information and data. And topping this, I also chose prefered tools of my own liking, that might […]

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