Decluttering Digital Spaces

I never paid attention to the number of contacts in my phone until I wrote a piece on mental health a few years ago. In the introduction I note I had 436 phone contacts, yet no one to reach out to. This is not going to be a rehash of what it’s like to literally have hundreds of phone numbers and no one to call, but in a way, it is going to be exactly that.

One night recently, I sat down and saw my contacts had reached 586. What I couldn’t understand: why? There are so many people I most likely never have to talk to again.

I decided to do a purge, sat down, and scrolled through all 586 contacts choosing who to delete. After about 40 minutes, I ended up with 214 contacts.

Here is how I decided who to delete:

  • We haven’t communicated in any way in over five years (a long enough grace period where there would have been opportunities for people to resurface into my life). This included high school classmates, teachers who supervised our senior trip, and some of my distant friends’ moms.

  • We met once at a concert, most likely not sober, and for some reason exchanged numbers. (Don’t assume this is just a bunch of males, because it was mostly females.

  • The last name had “Marketing” or some other generic class in its place because we took one class together and were forced to work on a terrible group project together where I cursed your name to everyone I knew.
  • Former bosses I wouldn’t use as references because of varying reasons (no longer in the field, too much time has passed, connected on LinkedIn, etc.).
  • There is only a first name, maybe there’s a last initial, but the name is still unrecognizable and probably left over from years of dating.

There were some mishaps; a few times I came across a name I thought I knew, deleted it, then came across that person’s actual contact info and realized I have no recall of the first person I deleted. So they both got the boot.

Going through all these contacts is a bit like sorting through a time capsule and strolling memory lane. There was a point Twitter would text you, remember that? I admit, I used to review my contacts every now and again, but never hit that red delete button.

Deleting over half my contacts doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk to you, but in 2018 there are much better ways to communicate if needed. In a more practical sense, if I haven’t spoken to you in some time and I decide to reach out, it most likely won’t be through a phone. That’s  why we have a number of social media accounts. This way you’ll “know” who I am. Instead of a number and ambiguous text appearing on your screen, you can see my whole profile.

This also doesn’t mean I have anything against someone who was deleted–it’s the practicality of it. And I kept some contacts that surprised me for some reason. People I would still only reach out to on Facebook, but there’s something about seeing that name and recognizing the friendship we had that only ended because of distance, or sharing the mutual understanding of how brutal University 201 was, or you’re Karen and I’ll always keep that number for no reason except to remember her and smile.

In a realistic sense, you most likely don’t have my current number anyway, because it’s French. So if you text my old US number, I have no idea what happens on your end (probably nothing since people have been sending important group messages to my old number without realizing) but I will never see that text. If you have texted me and wondered why I’m not responding, it’s probably because of this. Just send me a message on Facebook and I’ll do the same.

Or email, that’s cool too.

If you’re wondering if you were deleted or kept, just ask for the fun of it. Maybe it will make you realize you should do some spring cleaning of your own. Decluttering your digital life is freeing. Not only does it free up some storage space, but it frees up your mental capacity as well. We don’t have to let everyone we’ve ever met take up digital and mental space in our lives. Without realizing, this could be negatively impacting you; perhaps every time you see a certain person’s name, you suddenly think back to a time you’d rather not. You can’t remove your memories, but you can certainly distance yourself from them, and this is one way to start.

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