Is deleting information the answer? How do we know what to delete?

How do we know what to delete on our computers? It can be hard to decide. What if we were wrong in our decision and we need the document again? It's easy if we know we can get the same content. But if we don't?

Is it even worth deleting with the cheap storage space? Compulsive hoarding might be an answer, but with a lot of information in a way, is hard to focus on information we work on at a certain point in time.

A study showed that users categorize information in three groups:

  • Important items that remained in place
  • Valuable things that moved to the archives
  • Unimportant items that were deleted.

Is has been even studied what affects deletion:

  • removed as exists in another format,
  • not needed again,
  • age,
  • size,
  • importance (value),
  • received new information,
  • unknown content,
  • available time to do maintenance.

I recently read a comment on a ./ which made me laugh (and would never work for me):

"If hasn't been accessed in 3 years then it gets deleted [porn files 6 months]."

It makes me think of a cronjob :)

1 1 find /home/user -type f -atime -2191 -exec rm {} \;
1 2
find /home/user/video/porn -type f -atime -182 - exec {} \;

I wouldn't trust any such script. Some research prototypes tried to delete and categorize email. But even Google is sometimes wrong and puts my legitimate emails in spam :(.

Similar suggestion  was made by Joshua Baer, a CEO of OtherInBox, that email should have a "best used before" field and emails with exceeded date would automatically be deleted. Besides companies not using such a thing (who would like their email being deleted) or putting the dates 100s of years from now (spam), I wouldn't trust this either. What if I leave an ad in my inbox because it's from a company that does interesting things. But I want too look at it a few months later. What if such ad included a promotion that already expired, gets deleted without me knowing it. Not a good thing.  Second example. Imagine an academic conference with its due date or a meeting invitation. I don't  want to attend it, but next year (conference) or next month (meeting) I'd love to come, so I leave such email in the inbox as a reminder. What if it gets deleted (conference due date is over and meeting as well)? I would perform a search and be frustrated not being able to find such emails.

In the meanwhile I'll follow my common sense, delete what I think I won't need anymore and hope for the best :).