Free the information

I promised a post about information – how we store it, what we do with it. (I am married to Mr Web Company. I appreciate the irony.)

Quick answer: why keep information? It’s All Out There Anyway. (The end.)

Is it really as simple as that? Yes, with more and more information online, one way or another, there is less need for me to keep some of the things I’ve kept in the past.

University notes. Recipes. Addresses and phone numbers of companies.

The reason I’m grappling with this is that I am an inveterate keeper of cuttings. (My mother will tell you this started way back.)

From what I can think back to, it may have begun with recipes from women’s magazines. (I don’t even remember where the magazines came from. Maybe they were passed on to us.)

I would read them, as I would read pretty much anything that stayed around long enough for me to do so. And as we’d been told they didn’t have to be returned, I would take cuttings out of them. To keep. In case they came in useful.

It went on to other things. TV listings for programmes I’d really enjoyed and wanted to remember. (No catch-up TV in those days; if you’d not videoed it, that was that.)

I had scrapbooks for these. I like scrapbooks in the first place. Every now and then, I might go through them, take out things I was no longer interested in, paste some more in over the top.

And so it went on. For a long time. Saturday Times magazine articles that had been particularly good. Sometimes profiles of people I admired: actors, writers, and so on.

Later on, other things were added into the mix. Health tips. Travel recommendations. Places offering children’s parties. You name it, I would see ‘usefulness’ in it, and file it away.

Except, often, it was putting it in a folder and hanging on to it. I didn’t know what I had, necessarily. I was forging ahead, out to find the next useful piece of paper.

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I’d like to blame some kind of hunter gatherer tendency for this. That would help. It might mean I can cite genetics, rather than label myself as a hoarder.

And yet. (You knew there was one coming, didn’t you?)

When you study, when you research, you do need to keep an eye out for things: not just what you think you’re looking for but what you come across as well. You hang on to it. You have a hunch about it.

Being a parent can be much the same. It’s not just what you need now, it’s what activity might appeal to your child in the future; that present idea for the great-aunt; the suggestion for something new to do with mince. (It can be more exciting than just mince recipes, too.)

And so I kept them. But as part of my grand sort-out, I am finally reviewing what I have kept – and realising how little I refer back to it.

Why keep several centimetres thick of photocopies – when I could buy the book if I want to keep reading about that topic? (Bye bye, some of my social sciences notes.)

Why keep some of the health or nutrition information when I’ve researched beyond that now? (You sure end up doing lots of online reading if you start cooking gluten- and dairy-free.)

Why keep the clipping about that summer camp when I can make a note of the details, and recycle the paper?

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So far, it’s going well. Lots of recycling, yet more paper to add to the scrap paper collection.

Old habits die hard, though. I still love researching, one way or another. These days, I am trying to keep it what I find out in Evernote instead. Easier to record; easier to search and find again.

I’m trying something new: a file that tells me what I’m keeping in the flat, and where. (So if I do need to find my TEFL notes again, I know for certain which box I’ve put them in.)

The bigger change is one where I ask myself: do I really need that? Will I go back and look that up again – or will I just research it anew? And which one will take less time (quite apart from storage considerations)?

I don’t want to throw away useful things for the sake of it. That doesn’t sit right with the reuse-recycle part of me.

But as with other areas of last year’s eco sweep: it’s reducing that’s the hardest bit. Accepting that life is short; that we won’t need to reuse everything; that what we need now may not necessarily meet the challenges of the future.

There is a growing line of argument to suggest that education should move away from accumulation of knowledge – because so much ‘general knowledge’ information is easily accessible online.

What we need instead is synergy – making connections between different, seemingly unrelated areas. Turning them into something new.

Maybe it’s OK to keep some stuff then. Or at least to know where to find it.

So I can put it together with the new things I learn along the way – and make something that reflects who I’ve been, as well as where I’m going.

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