I think most of us have a kind of ocean mentality to organisation. We swallow up all this stuff indiscriminate of how much we actually need or want it. In time, the tide turns, all those things wash up onto the beach for us to inspect and we realise we need to tidy up. Well, sometimes. Other times it takes a stern word from PETA armed with pictures of pelicans covered in oil and a crab munching on plastic packaging. Either way, though, eventually the job gets done and we feel better for it.
So why is it so damn difficult to feel that way about computer files?
Seriously. I just reorganised my hard copy portfolio into a nice folder. I’ve split it into five sections with dividers, plastic walleted all draft material by their corresponding story, alphabetised it all and can find everything I’m after in seconds, and I’m not even that great at organising myself.
But with computers I just can’t do it.
I think organisation has a tactile dimension to it that computer programmers just haven’t learned to imitate yet. Documents are, after all, just pixels. There’s no handwriting or scuffs or scribbles on computer files; no real memory of writing the page that isn’t superseded by every other page I’ve ever written on Word in the past. It isn’t a physical object and so, on some level, my brain just can’t fully grasp its significance. When I look at a bunch of desktop folders, with their white backgrounds and appropriate but bland file names, I don’t see pages of my stuff. I just see a bunch of icons that don’t really mean anything to me. I still feel removed from my work.
There are ways to make the sight more bearable and the contents more aesthetically pleasing and manageable. OneNote essentially makes your work look like a binder with links in and tables; tags can shorten file paths and keep things organised into sections. Windows’ own icons can help distinguish one thing from another more clearly.
But perhaps no matter what a programmer does it won’t help much. Perhaps, I realised tonight, you have to find or make value for your files’ appearance yourself in order to establish this elusive connection. Perhaps you have to put a little of your own psyche into those dull icons and get the cogs turning whenever you see them – to use something warm and familiar and entertaining that has personal meaning to you. Something which took an internet quest to find, and brings joy whenever you see it.
And that’s how I ended up downloading Wall-E as my Recycle Bin icon.