Perhaps like me, you are constantly working to clear — your physical space, your head, your email inbox, your to-do list — so that you have an uncluttered springboard from which to leap creatively forward. I call it trying to get current. It’s hard to invent something new when you feel cluttered with unfinished business. It’s hard to drive if you haven’t scraped that ice off your windshield.
In the past few years I’ve become a compulsive organizer…I have been sucked into hours of deleting pictures on iPhoto, then organizing the rest into little titled folders…I’ve lost days fiddling with the bottom of my Netflix queue, which is the section that should be labeled ‘movies I will never see.’ I could have read a Tolstoy novel in the time I’ve spent managing my songs on iTunes, putting old e-mails into folders, watching TV shows I don’t really care about just to get them off my DVR and moving the downloaded Tolstoy novel from my computer to my iPhone and then to my iPad.
We are all OCD now. We do these things not just because digital filing gives us the satisfaction of cleaning without the unpleasant feeling of getting up from our chairs. It’s because we’re constantly confronting the onslaught of information, and our brains are trying to make patterns out of the randomness.
Okay. But that doesn’t help if we get stuck in the constantly clearing mode, does it? Stein, though, does offer us a possible solution. The subtitle for his column: “Why we need to stop worrying and learn to love digital disorder.”
We need a digital Zoloft, something that will force us to allow messiness into our digital lives…We need an app–I’m calling it 1-Year-Old Boy–that grabs stuff out of our folders and throws it around, possibly while laughing, possibly while pooping, probably both. It will hide a few episodes of 30 Rock from us when we have more than five to watch, and it will hide them in its mouth. And it will remind us that anarchy is the best way to actually enjoy things: it’s the newness of watching a movie we didn’t know about, of hearing a song we didn’t set up on a mix, of seeing a cat do something stupid right in front of us instead of on YouTube.