Thursday, 1 September 2011

The storage addiction

The link between a story about people's apparent addiction to paying to store old sofas, records, magazines that they no longer have room for at home and a critique of email management strategies over the past 15 years or so is not, perhaps, immediately obvious. And yet I was certainly struck by many of the same underlying trends that I alluded to in a recent paper I gave to the Digital Preservation Coalition's Email Preservation Workshop entitled: Email management: Fifteen wasted years and counting and the the piece featured on today's BBC website about 'The self storage craze'

If you can't be bothered to read the full text of my paper then Chris Prom has neatly summed up the main thrust of my argument in his own blog post. Basically, it is that our users are now strongly influenced in their approach to information management by the external tide of technology which leads them to expect near-infinite storage at their finger tips as a given. Our users like to keep 'stuff'. They may not always know why, or for what purpose it is being kept but want to keep it nonetheless and this apparently applies just as much to battered old bits of furniture and betamax videos we can no longer play as it does to emails and other records.

What I argued in the paper to the DPC was that we as records professionals seem to have either ignored or dismissed this impetus and have spent the best part of fifteen years trying, virtually always unsuccessfully, to fight against it and to impose rules regarding the retention and disposal of emails and other records which not only runs counter to the overall direction of technological development but to human nature. As i say in the paper:

"Trying to sell the concept of manual disposal of emails is a bit like telling the driver of a Porsche that he still has to have a man with a red flag walk in front of him."

This appears to me to be another example, perhaps the classic example of how we have failed to understand how our users think and act and have instead tried to impose management solutions on them which may suit the corporate agenda but which singularly fails to meet user requirements. And then we wonder why users fail to engage with the solutions we provide...

All this is very dear to my heart at the moment as I am currently working on producing a new infoKit for the JISC infoNet website: "Implementing information management technologies" which aims to fuse records management and Human-Computer Interaction approaches to create a methodology for implementing information managment techologies which gives equal weight to meeting the needs of the users as it does to the organisation. I doubt it will be the complete answer, but at least it will hopefully mark a step in the right direction. It won't be released until early next year so watch this space...