About 6 months ago I deactivated my Facebook and deleted Instagram from my phone. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself around to deleting Instagram. One day I had the courage to finally do it but when I started going through the process I found out that deleting my instagram meant 1) I would lose my username and 2) I would lose all of my pictures. I was frantic. Not all of my images! Not all of my memories! I felt like by hitting “confirm” I would be deleting these same moments I held so dear. To make matters worse, I forgot my password and had to enter it twice before it finally deleted everything. So far, no one has taken my username so there’s still hope but all my images are now off of the Instagram platform. Don’t worry, I still have my pictures thanks to a nifty little application that downloads your images into a zip file. Why? Because I couldn’t handle the thought of fully deleting all of these images even though I know most of them are stored somewhere on some computer or in “the cloud”.
Every application I’ve used including WordPress uses such extreme language when deleting things. Facebook even lists people who will miss you (which is sometimes incredibly inaccurate) to try to get you to stay. The word “forever” and “never” are used frequently in the wordings of these deleting processes. Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because we now live in an age where you could save just about anything if you wanted to. Combine that with the fact that most of the things we use on a daily basis are saving everything it can about YOU! Because we invest so much time in these platforms/tools/apps/etc deleting them permanently and everything that goes along with said thing isn’t an easy decision. The weight of deleting all of my images on Instagram left me seeking a way to save them because it felt like such an extreme action to take. These were memories not just pictures. This digital footprint felt just as personal as my own real footprint. Combine that with how integrated each of these tools are and you soon realize that deleting just one has a ripple effect. For example, since deleting Facebook I no longer have access to dozens of Spotify playlists I made because it was connected to my Facebook profile. Further, it’s not as if we CHOOSE to save this information. Most of the time, this is all collected and saved without an active choice on our end. The result is that we don’t have a true choice about what to save or what to delete on a small scale, we only have this giant choice to delete everything or download everything (who really wants to see what they posted on Facebook on a random Tuesday three years ago). This all or nothing choice (keep or save) keeps people attached because psychologically it’s too extreme of a choice to click “Yes – I understand that this will delete everything and that I’ll never have access to it again”.
When my grandmother died, I remember going through her things with my mom. I remembering finding the random pictures of me at varying ages in her desk drawer and her collection of glasses from over the years. The things she kept actually had immense value because she could only keep so much and had to go out of her way to do so. Not to get too morbid, but I can’t fathom the number of digital things I have saved away that I hope someone never has to go through. On the same note, I have friends who never delete their text messages even as their phone’s memory begins to run out. Should we save everything? Is this good for us or is it just like clutter that’s been digitized? Before I deleted Instagram, I found that I had published almost 2,000 pictures on there. I tried to imagine what that would look like if these were pictures that were printed out and put in boxes. I then imagined that I wouldn’t have kept all of them and would have weeded through what I wanted to keep. Because now it’s so easy to push out updates, posts, images, etc. it makes sense from a UX perspective to remove this option of saving or deleting the data associated with those things.
So much of our lives are spent online that we need to be more cognizant about the clutter we’re creating and everything we’re saving. Unfortunately, we’re not really given the option to. There’s no digital spring cleaning and even if there were it would be too much to process and go through. We upload things and move on without a second thought to going through and deleting things because there’s no visible pile up to worry about. There’s no memory limit we’re reaching. The information overload we experience daily from external sources is just being replicated in our own day to day creation of content. We’re overloaded internally and externally.
Deleting Facebook and Instagram remind me of the “before and after” feelings I had when I let go of my Christian faith yearssss ago. There’s the time before when I used to post daily and worry about likes. Now there’s the after period where I only look back on that time and look at others focusing on what I used to (likes, captions, the perfect photo, funniest tweet). To complete my personal Christianity analogy, I have the times before when I prayed when I was upset and now I cope in different ways all while understanding the appeal of the Christian message. Needless to say, I’m much happier in this “after” state as both of the before states were more like distractions than additions to my life. All of this is to say that I’ve become much more mindful about where parts of my life are scattered digitally and am working to clean this up a bit. I cringe each time I click “accept” when asked if I want to delete this forever. Thankfully, I’ve found that in the same way you don’t think about that shirt you gave away I don’t think much about the lost Facebook posts.