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The most valuable key

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jan 03,2013 - Last updated at Jan 03,2013

I recently found out what the most valuable key on my computer’s keyboard was.

For some it is the space bar whereas for others it is the Enter key, or maybe the @ key. As far as I am concerned it is the delete key and I have been using it rather extensively lately.

Why the delete key? The answer is simple. It keeps the place tidy, preserving my sanity at the same time.

The word “place” is to take globally here, for it encompasses a number of fixed hard disks, spread over a couple of laptop machines, and at least three external hard disks, not to mention the cloud storage that I rent at DropBox, and not forgetting a non-negligible number of files and other digital contents stored on my trusty smartphone.

There are a few ways to get well organised and to maintain a personal fleet of computers of all kinds.

Building a good, meaningful structure of folders and subfolders certainly helps. Naming files in a meaningful way so that it makes it easy to retrieve them and quickly see what they contain also is important.

Having an elephant’s memory would equally contribute to efficient digital file management. And of course, good data backup practice greatly contributes to keep one’s digital contents safe and neat.

Nothing, however, helps you keep hard disks tidy and well sorted like deleting useless files from the very start.

Some people hate to throw away old objects. It’s the way they like to live and there is no law against that.

But the mayhem you may create in your attic or cellar by piling up physical objects is nothing compared to the chaos that you could find yourself in through years of computing and e-mailing, unless clean-up is done, and is done on the spot. Clean-up equals delete — it’s simple, fast and easy.

Deleting useless files? I can anticipate the existential comment that many would throw at me: “define useless...”

Again, it is a matter of personal behaviour with the machine. How can you be sure that you won’t need this or that file five or ten years from now?

Maybe you can’t, but you can be sure that an excessive number of files stored would drive you crazy one day: you would be unable to find what you are looking for, having to open and close countless files to see if this is exactly what you are after, spend longer time to make backup copies, and so forth.

There are a few practical rules though.

Photos first. I tend to keep one photo out of 10 or 20 I shoot — the best one of course.

The rest I gladly delete, for good and forever. In the digital age we shoot an excessive number of photos that all look the same.

Why should we keep them all? Besides, discarding the not-so-good or look-alike pics makes the one you keep more valuable, more pleasurable to see and to show friends and family.

E-mails then. I systematically delete, after reading them, all the messages that are nothing but a casual conversation with my contacts.

Do you really need to save forever an e-mail that say “yes, I will come to your birthday party”? Do you intend to sue your contacts if they don’t show at the party by using the e-mail as a legal exhibit?

It certainly varies from one person to another and from one business to another, but on average more than 70 per cent of digital contents can be deleted if not immediately after reading or seeing them, at least in the week or the month that follows.

I usually don’t wait that long and keep deleting as early as I can. Hence my frequent use of the delete key — or of the mouse right-click then delete/cut, naturally.

I think there is less to lose if you err on the side of deleting too much than if you keep stacking mountains of digital files under which you would lose your way eventually.

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