Do You Suffer From Information Hoarding Syndrome?

Nov 21, 2012 | Updated Jan 21, 2013

We are trying to remember too much.

Without any screening, the great server cloud banks save everything. All email. All photos. All Facebook posts. All webpages visited. Forever.

Jack Dorsey says Twitter got its name because it represented "short bursts of inconsequential information and chirps from the birds." But unlike the tweets of the birds which vanish as soon as they are sung, about 340 million bursts of inconsequential information are archived each day.

The scale is breathtaking. But rather than awe, I feel the first symptoms of oxygen starvation.

My thesis:

By trying to hold everything, we lose what is of value.

Human memory is porous for a reason. It allows us to regularly renew what is useful and meaningful and let the dross float away.

Some people worry about information gathered and used against our will or without our knowledge. This usurious leveraging of personal history, choices and details must be regulated appropriately. But it's not my concern here. I am writing about all the information junk food and image clutter that we choose to keep.

I call it Information Hoarding Syndrome (IHS). I believe it reduces our experience and our identity in direct relation to its cancerous expansion in server memory.

Think about it. Is meaning searchable? Doesn't our default lifestyle of saving all the informational bits and pieces of our lives reduce our ability to make truly meaningful information operational in our heads and hearts? Remember when people memorized passages of beautiful writing so they could recite them? Isn't that a glorious feeling -- to be one with a poem that captures beauty? Or should I say, wasn't it?

And what about the complementary quality of emptiness. Space. Whether we look into the expanse of the sky or the sea or the darkness of our dreams, the function is similar. To achieve integration, we need room to arrange our values, our information, our identities. Even computers slow down and die when they run short of memory space. We know intuitively that adequate space is just as important as the thing which will take up part of the space. Think of parallel parking. Think of king-sized beds for married couples.

The Internet has often struck me as a Tower of Babel just as much as it is a portal to new worlds of narrative, experience and learning. It's a place of confusion and noise as well as a place where we can broaden our horizons.

As we suffer from IHS, we save the babble of Babel just as we save the world wide web's wonderful, beautiful and inspirational parts. With the exception of spam, everything is automatically worthy of archiving, everything given a digital stake. We give up the editorial function of our own personal digital lives because we're certain that our ability to search will solve everything efficiently in the end.

But any search is only as good as the searcher. And our hoarding of information atrophies our abilities to find what is really valuable. We need more than a searchable name or a phrase to find understanding. Bliss does not come when our search returns 388,000 results in 0.38 seconds, it comes in a single awakening or a series of revelations that themselves grow from regular personal and spiritual focus. Intuition, inspiration, comparative connections happen in our heads and souls not in the cloud.

I am not anti-Internet. Nor am I anti-computer memory. I love my 8 GB of RAM just as much as anybody. But I believe we have swung too far to a thoughtless pattern of memory consumption which leaves us always hungry and rarely satisfied. We are inundated and asking for more. Choking on too much information even as we arrange to backup our backup. We don't seek enlightenment, only speed, storage and security.

We dehumanize ourselves when we abdicate the traditional practice of deciding what's worth remembering, when we stop holding our defining details and stories in our hearts.

The great scholar and teacher of mythology, Joseph Campbell said humans need myths because they provide metaphors to get you beyond the information highway of everyday culture to the eternal part of our being.

If we can't get in touch with that eternal part -- the mysterious energy some people call God and others call love, the spiritual pulse that links us all -- if we can't connect to that, we're stuck with the Internet's lowest-common-denominator values of speed, volume, SEO and measures of disconnected social interaction such as "likes" and "re-tweets."

IHS robs us of our access to Campbell's idea of mystery - the undefinable, but unmistakable eternal connection we all share. That connection helps us get outside the ego where we can be in "accord with nature," as Campbell says. Then, in touch with the natural world, with God, with love, with values that resonate deeply within us, with the limitless within us, we can find the renewing solace and joy of integration.

And we can relax.

After all, our whole is so much more than the sum of our emails.

Our ability to save, access and manipulate large amounts of data is a marvel. A gift. But most gifts become burdens over time. Our information hoarding is one such burden. The trick is understanding that a gift which has become a burden is often only asking to evolve into a more bountiful thing, a more abundant gift.

I look forward to this evolution.