On Digital Detritus


I was moving over files – iTunes library – from my laptop to the new desktop when something strange happened.

I suddenly felt TERRIBLE about what I was doing. I was filling up my new, pristine hard drive with hundreds of gigs of … stuff. Stuff that I didn’t even USE. I don’t listen to my music collection that often, and when I do, it’s not that I need that much variety.

I have a lot of junk in there. A lot of junk that I just can’t be bothered to throw away.

And here I was, loading up a clean hard drive with … crap. And I felt it.

Storage space shouldn’t be an issue in my current environment – I have several NASes humming along, I have about 4TB of networked data storage available in some form or another. I have 10 years of hard drives in my closet in various enclosures that I can use to back data up and move data around and make backups and backups of my backups and backups of my backups and yo dawg we herd you like backups so we put a NAS in your NAS so you can backup while you backup.

Seriously, I have a lot of backup drives. I’m not even counting my offsite storage in this little soul-baring audit!

And yet, there I was, going … why am I putting all this STUFF on the machine I want to work on?

It wasn’t just iTunes. It was 40k photographs, it was a hugely messy home directory with documents scattered all over the place. I’d been going with that home directory for about 6 years now since the last good cleanout, and it showed. Documents EVERYWHERE. It didn’t matter, I kept saying. All I do is use Spotlight or Quicksilver for search. Doesn’t matter where I put stuff.

But … it does.


I purge my toons periodically in World of Warcraft. If you follow me on Twitter you know that sometimes I’ll just get into a mood and start slashing alts. I used to be more judicious about keeping alts around, but after a long friendship with Psyinster and Fynralyl I adopted a more live-and-let-die approach to my toons.


  1. Are you still fun to play? If no, go to #2.
  2. Do you have something irreplaceable on you, or a profession which would be a total PITA to relevel? If no, go to #3.
  3. Do you have your own blog? If no, you’re gone.

The third rule is the Cynwulf Rule – I leveled him to 80 and promptly stopped having fun on him, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete him because he had his own, dusty blog. He is a character in the ongoing story and GOD DAMNIT I MIGHT NEED SCREENSHOTS.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t posted there in a year… and a half. He’s safe.

My Shaman is trying to exploit the Cynwulf Rule for her own benefit. Or maybe mine. She has a blog solely so that she doesn’t get the axe! I’m like, this is silly, I have to stop deleting toons and give them an honest shake.

Yeah. It’s the only thing that kept her around last month.

Characters weigh on my mind. Leveling characters, especially, but character in general. They take up mental space. They have … presence, even when they’re not doing things. I like having them around, I like having them available, I like trying out new things, but …

Digital things can take up space.

Physical stuff dragging you down, I understand. Paul Graham’s essay Stuff is a great short read on how our society has come to a point where we accumulate and accumulate because stuff is so fucking cheap now. I go into my garage and attic and am like… why do I have all these boxes? Why do I have all these old college papers? WHAT POSSIBLE USE IS THIS BOX TO A CAMERA THAT DOESN’T WORK? It’s all stuff.

Oh, hey, George Carlin on Stuff:

Physical stuff takes up physical space. It’s matter! Can’t change the laws of physics. But it takes up mental space too. You have to remember where your stuff is. Stuff has memories attached to it. I’m not anti-Stuff, by the way – I think it’s good to hold on to important memories. But I know I have too much Stuff, too.

Digitial stuff is weird. It has no real presence… I mean, sure, there’s a stack of hard drives, there are computers lying about, there are those old Zip drive disks and 3.5 floppies I’m NEVER going to bother getting a drive together to read again – but it’s the digital ghosts inside those things which haunts me. It’s the 35 backups of my iTunes and iPhoto library which, when I think about them at all, makes me want to curl up into a ball and pay someone to just sort it all out for me.

Seriously. I’ve considered outsourcing organizing my photo library before. WTB competent tagger, PST rates.

It’s tough trying to clean this stuff out. It’s all mental once you get past the ones and zeros, it’s all mental. Do I need this file? Do I need this photo? What about this movie? Should I digitize it to preserve it? Do I save this or that? Did I encrypt my tax returns? Did I remember to save that PGP key?

Warcraft really isn’t any different. You have to maintain toons (hello, endgame). You need to keep their UI tuned up through various patches. You need to keep their possessions organized.

You ever log into a toon after a few month hiatus, look in their bags, and wonder what the hell you were doing the last time you played? WHY DO I STILL HAVE THIS why are these bags so messy why do I have vendor trash ON MY MAIN oh god I fail at this game /logout /posterous.

Each one is effort.

Each one takes up space.

And sometimes, just like the toys you have to clean out periodically when you have kids, or are a kid, you have to free up some space.


There are times I want to wipe it all out and start over.

I don’t think I’m alone in this desire. Zero it out, fresh clean slate… start over. No expectations, no baggage.

No resources.

No accumulated knowledge.

No history to search through and say, oh, that’s right, I did this, I needed this to do that.

There are tradeoffs to starting over.

I was going through some old websites of mine on Tumblr tonight, trying to reconcile what I used to do with what I do now. It’s so different. So, so different. But each one of them was out there, a record of a different time. Maybe it’s not worth deleting the past. Maybe it’s worth starting over, but leave a trail of digital detritus behind us, so that we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

Maybe we should leave those old toons where they are, in peace.

Or maybe we should type DELETE at the screen, and hope they don’t have any mail left.


My time in WoW continues to shrink. My time spent in game dwindles as I find myself in the midst of a creative … explosion. I don’t know how else to describe what’s happening right now. Things are so hectic, so stressful, yet instead of logging in to veg out I want to MAKE THINGS and WRITE THINGS and CODE THINGS and DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS. When I do log in, I have been picking the strangest toons to play. My Forsaken Warlock? SURE. A random DK? OK.

I have two weeks left before I have to make the decision to go buy that game card or not, and I’ve thrown the bucket list out the window. I’m playing World of Fashioncraft more than world of Warcraft. I’m more worried about getting a decent outfit for my Druid than I am completing the grind for her BiS trinket.

I know before I talked about how constraints create focus, and they do. What I find interesting is that I’m focusing on things that don’t have a lot of digital baggage with them. Go, make someone look nice. Do they look nice now? Ok, go to the next one. Rinse, repeat.

WoW’s hold on me is very tenuous right now. I’m not compelled to go on, except to create something, or capture an image of something. Images and words, not accomplishments.

I don’t know what to say about that.

This is one of those posts where I write and write and hope that I come to a point, eventually. But I don’t know that I will, tonight. I mean, I’ve got stuff. Digital stuff. It weighs on my brain. We all have digital stuff, at least you good folks who are reading this do. What can we do about that stuff?

I’m deleting my iTunes folder off my new computer right now. It is stuff that I’m not prepared to deal with. It can stay on the old computer for a while longer.

The pictures might stay, but maybe I should get rid of them, too.

And my characters in WoW… are they passing the three questions of toon survival, or not?

Maybe that’s not even the right question.

What if the game itself is what needs to be going through that test right now? Is it a good tool, good entertainment, fun?

Or digital debris?

My sub runs out in mid-February, and then I’m on vacation for a week.

We’ll see what happens then.


Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes

11 responses to “On Digital Detritus

  1. Alberthus99999

    STuff , we all have it and will always will, in all its forms, the True problem is the sutff you save for later use, and never use, this for me is the worse, not having stuff its having stuff you save for later and never use.At wow, I have what i like to call “Compulsive Alts deletions disorder “, so some times I do some cleaning, speaking of witch, I am late on this part.Must delete My worgen Priest, on that server I only played once, when my main server was offline.Ty for the post on stuff CYN and the “stuff” video.

  2. catulla

    “except to create something, or capture an image of something. Images and words, not accomplishments.I don’t know what to say about that.” For what it’s worth, Cyn, that’s largely where I’ve been at for the past year and a half, and I just committed to a year’s worth of WoW, and I have no regrets.Remember, images and words are accomplishments. You need to do what’s right for you, but don’t do a disservice to all the other, beautiful things you’ve created.

  3. battlechicken

    I understand completely. I’ve felt the same way at different points in time, and ALWAYS walking away has been the best decision for me. Whether it was a break from raiding, a break from alts, or a full-on game break, it was what was needed to clear some of that head space.If you’re in the midst of a creative explosion, then your brain needs room. Go with your gut, go with your instincts, and if after your vacation they say it’s time to put WoW in the closet for a while to open up some creative floor space, then I’d say do it.Like catulla said, though, don’t do a disservice to the rest. It doesn’t mean that the WoW-related things you’ve done haven’t mattered at all. If absolutely nothing else, they brought interest, inspiration, and happiness to you at the time–and I can promise you they brought the same things to us.Do what you need to do, my friend. ❤

  4. Tonk

    Have you considered that World of Fashioncraft could be a way for you to wrap your characters with a bow so that when they do sit in that closet, unplayed, you can still have a pleasing mental image of them. Whatever mental space they take up, at least that space won’t be messy. BiS trinkets will be obsolete before long and beg to be replaced. Style is forever.In my life, I’ve come to see the value of storage which I don’t see every day. It allows me to keep my living space clear and useful while not having to throw out things I only use occasionally or just want to have for sentimental reasons.

  5. Expiatus

    Cyn, I did delete all of my toons, gear, gold, everything. I even went to a different server and roled a female Belf warlock, all my previous toons were male and Alliance. I just got tired of 5+ toons taking up “mental space” as you put it So now I get on, play the lock (they are kind fun actually) and make a shirt or two. Then turn it off cause I’ve got projects in the garage. Call me crazy or risky but it’s fun/diverting and the best part, I do not think about any of those other toons. Focus is saying “No.” I thank you for that Steve Jobs quote.

  6. Redbeard

    Can I borrow one of your NASes? Just sayin’…..;-)Oh, and when do you PvP, anyway?

  7. Cynwise of Stormwind

    Okay, Posterous keeps eating my comment replies. Thank you all for yours, I really appreciate them!@albert – thank you, have you deleted that priest yet? :)@cat – Danke for the reminder. I need to hear that sometimes. I owe you an email!@battlechicken – And danke for your reminder, too. It’s strange for me to come to grips with how much stuff just wants OUT right now. I’ve had periods where the well has been dry – this is not one of them.@tonk: You know, I hadn’t really thought about that, but I think you’ve hit on something important there. I am trying to tidy up. I am trying to organize and make things neat. Style IS forever. :)@expiatus: … I love it when people remind me of my own advice. Thank you. I’m actually really glad you posted that, because deleting everything to start over fresh is both scary and liberating.@redbeard: You know, I have one of those HP MediaVaults which, at the time, was an absolute beast, but now it’s like… 1.4 TB is all you have? Funny how tech changes.When I’m able to be online, it’s usually between 9-10 pm ET. I can squeeze in a PvP game or two in there and that’s about it.

  8. Alberthus99999

    Delete already He is in greenish pastures now and happier . =)