I still remember the days when we were ‘forced’ to clear up every trace of food/garbage we left during our Outdoor Action Trips. And today when I was reviewing the contents of our class, I suddenly developed the idea of applying the ‘Leave No Trace’ (or LMT, i.e. Leave Minimum Trace) rule not only to our real life, but to our digital life as well.

With the availability of huge storage space in our computers and on the ‘cloud’, we can conveniently store almost everything related to us without ever worrying about running out of space. At first glance, this concept seems great: we can get rid of the emotional struggle experienced when we were hesitating over which photo to keep and which to discard. However, after giving it some more thought, I find this unlimited storage space is doing us more bad than we think.

When people were first introduced the concept of saving their personal stuff in digital format instead of hard copies, they happily dumped all their pictures, music and videos into the computer hard disk. At first, they will happily browse through the pictures, feeling fortunate that they can keep every piece of memory they have. However, as the materials pile up in the hard disk, people feel less and less willing to look through them and sort out those they really want. Instead, they will just leave them there, probably never going to look at them anymore. The large amount of information in our computers and in our Facebook accounts is making us more disorganized (since we keep adding materials inside and never clear up the ‘garbage’). Sometimes I feel scared that there is so much information about me online and a total stranger could easily know a lot about me in a few minutes. But at the same time I feel reluctant to remove the contents I do not like/want simply because, well, there is just so much of them.

Moreover, the low cost of saving personal information nowadays is making the task of forgetting something even harder. Human brains function in a way that makes it harder to forget a certain piece of memory than remember it, and the ever-present digital copies of information just adds difficulty to the process of forgetting. Though deleting a picture is easy on computer, we are just so used to keeping everything that we find it troublesome and time-consuming to selectively delete certain files. So we let them sit quietly in our hard disk like time-bombs, just that we have no idea when they will detonate. And what makes things worse is, even after you have devoted the time and effort to delete the relevant files on your computer, there could be copies stored online and shared on Facebook by others. Once you inadvertently run into the same picture/music, you are ‘forced’ to pick up that piece of memory once again and that could be painful.

Those are the reasons why I want to promote the idea of ‘LNT’ in our digital age. By LNT, I mean consciously choosing what to add to our computer and our Facebook accounts every time we take new pictures/find new songs/record new videos, and have the courage (yes, it does take courage) to discard the rest of the stuff we do not like. Instead of piling up everything in the computer and clearing the useless part in one shot, LNT means we do it in a continuous process, one bit at a time. This way, we feel less terrified by the task in front of us and at the same time reduce our unwanted trace (both the online and offline traces) by a large amount. This LNT does not mean we need to completely be ‘invisible’ by others. After all, we need to disclose certain personal information online for others to recognize and interact with us. What I would like to emphasize is the care taken to maintain the amount of information disclosed. We need to have some sense of what we could find about ourselves from the contents in our computers and online, and what others could find about us from our online information. If either of the two contains things we do not want to appear, we delete them immediately.

This concept might sound troublesome at first (which is quite the same as my feeling when I heard about LNT in the Outdoor Actions Trip), but just as LNT in real life is what keeps our natural environment clean and original as it is, LNT in virtual life is the element that keeps the virtual environment clean and maximizes our online benefit.

Leave a Reply