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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Digital Trash Piles Up

    In the early days of the Renaissance, individuals who were prominent in the academic arena were known for their expertise in many different disciplines. These Leonardo Da Vincis and Michelangelos who lived during the 15th and 16th centuries not only went through great lengths to acquire information, but they did so with a certain zeal and zest for recording that information. Knowledge was organized and kept so that every last observation, every inference, every pulse of thought was carefully compiled and recorded for future generations to learn and build on.

    Scientists, artists, journalists, musicians, individuals in many different disciplines in the modern world also go through great lengths of acquiring information. Aside from being limited to a particular discipline, individuals in the modern academic world have a similar zeal and zest for presenting their account of the world to the public, similar to the earlier Renaissance virtuosos. Whether this account of the world is a new scientific finding, a new song, breaking news in the Eastern Hemisphere, or a new photo gallery at the local museum, the individuals today are no less of virtuosos in their own field of thought than the academic scholars of the Renaissance over 500 years ago.

    The fundamental difference, however, between the knowledge that was acquired way back when and the knowledge acquired today is the volume. The creative force of a significantly larger number of people in the world today creates a problem of a significantly larger amount of information in the public databases.

    Information is constantly being acquired, and knowledge is always being presented in some form. Whether the information is making its way to the world via print, Internet, or television/radio based media, there is a unyeilding flow of information. I must ask the question, ‘Where is the information flowing from? Where is it going? And who controls the information? Who gauges the accuracy of a particular set of information? Who decides whether something is ‘important?”

    Anyone can answer, ‘Society controls the information that reaches us,’ or, ‘The media controls the information we receive,’ or even, ‘It’s all a government conspiracy.’ The truth is that we really don’t have measures in place for data management. As our information slowly moves to an entirely digital, Internet based atmospheres, the amount of information that will be available to the public will be so massive that soon enough, people won’t know what to do with all the extra bytes of data. Will the excess data all get stored away? If so, will there be some sort of massive hard drive to store the data? But even data on a hard drive would have to be ‘de-fragmented’ from time to time.

    As an example, here at the Statesman, the editorial staff usually engages in frequent e-mail correspondence regarding all different types of information. We have a system set up where editors each have their own e-mail account powered by Google Mail under the domain ‘’ Now, as many people know, Google gives approximately 2GB of memory with each mail account, so one never has to delete anything. Any little bit of information that is sent through e-mail has to be storied in some hard drive. Even if I write a two line e-mail to the editors about our next staff meeting, that data has to be stored somewhere. I, along with the rest of the editors, may never read that e-mail again after the next staff meeting, but the e-mail is still stored away.

    If Statesman editors in the future continue to use our mail system, that email will likely still be there. After all, my e-mail account only has about 104MB of 2048MB used up! The question remains, ‘What will happen to those few bytes of data?’

    It is my impression that we need some sort of protocol in place to ‘clean up the mess’ that has been created over the past 15 years concerning, particularly, the major online public databases that require use of the Internet. I know on Pubmed, a website used by science researchers to search the scientific literature, there is a constant flux of data that results from individuals working specifically to organize the data in the system. In the case of Pubmed, the data involved is science research papers.

    Still, who decides what research papers should be kept available for people to search? Does it go by the number of hits? I must say that this is all very confusing for me. But I foresee that the potential problem will be rectified in the future. It may be the case that people who are adept in the area of computer programming have already populated this need for individuals who can focus on what to do with the random bits of information that get forgotten. In the future, it maybe the case that undergraduate and graduate level degrees will be available for students in the field of ‘Knowledge Management.’

    If we don’t do something soon, then, just as our world has become polluted on the exterior, the day may come when we have heaps of digital trash, mounds of nonsense data that will block our information superhighways. Congestion and calamity will arise, and we won’t be able to clean up the mess just by pressing a giant ‘delete’ button.

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