My Digital Life: On Keeping Stuff

by Erica Sadun

One of the brilliant things about a TiVo is that it watches all that TV for me that I intended to watch but never got around to sitting down to view. (Some people call this the "TiNo" phenomenon.) It's very comforting to know that my PVR took the time to record those shows because it demonstrates what excellent intentions I had as a person. I have a season pass to Friday Night Lights that I consistently fail to watch--but my TiVo does. Somehow this makes me feel like a better, more cultured person.

And when my TiVo runs out of space, it kindly deletes all those back episodes for me and I have the satisfaction that the shows aren't cluttering up my unit's hard drive forever.

iTunes is another matter entirely. I've downloaded all sorts of crap shows--from that Danny Bonaduce one to "My Bare Lady" (thought it would be a giggle) to "Learn with Sesame"--thinking that I or my husband or my kids would eventually get around to watching them. And we don't. We live in a BSG-Heroes-Spongebob-Mythbusters world, and there never really seems to be any time to catch up with the "maybe I'll try out an episode" shows that iTunes offers for free every Tuesday.

So on Sunday, I was backing up my computer and I really took note of all those gigabytes of iTunes unwatched freebies, as well as several shows that I downloaded and paid for because I'd missed them on TV and wanted to catch up on, but didn't really feel like watching again.

I have no problem tossing magazines. If I pick up a magazine to read at lunch or on an Airplane or while waiting at a Doctor's office, I don't mind throwing away the $2.00 or $3.50 I've invested after finishing reading it. Sometimes I let it age on the coffee table or in the bathroom for a few weeks, but it still gets tossed or occasionally bundled up and donated to the local pediatrician's office.

So why did I feel like a murderer on Sunday when I trashed that episode of Bones where Brennan gets blown up after dancing in Bones' apartment? And all those free, unwatched garbage shows that I deleted? (And yes, I'm looking at you, Real Housewives of Orange County.) Why did I feel I was doing something wrong and irrevocable.

Somehow it seems to be an iTunes thing. When I buy music at the Zune store, I know that my license extends to 3 or 4 more downloads of the same item. I don't need to keep copies on my computer unless I want to. But Apple's somewhat draconian "download it once and then it's all your responsibility" approach to digital purchases makes me want to hang onto certain items with more vigor than they're really worth.

Sure, Apple will replace your entire library in the event of a catastrophic loss. Once. And should such a day happen, my Housewives of Orange County, and my Danny Bonaduce, and my "My Bare Ladies" will be there, ready to come back to life in the worst zombie fashion, ready for me to stake them through the heart once again. But are these items and even more worthy items like "Bones" worth keeping around on recordable DVDs or hard drive storage? Probably not.

My problem is that I have to start thinking about these digital assets like like my TiVo. My TiVo knows when to trash those old episodes of Friday Night Lights. It doesn't hang onto them saying, "I'll get around to watching them eventually because the show is really, really well made." I've got to learn that lesson. Certain digital assets--family photos, movies, recordings over the baby monitor of my kids singing their ABCs in bed--are forever. The pilot of that awful Vampire series "Blade" is not.