Digital (or Virtual) Hoarding: Emerging Implications of Digital Hoarding for Computing, Psychology, and Organization Science

Digital (or Virtual) Hoarding: Emerging Implications of Digital Hoarding for Computing, Psychology, and Organization Science

Jo Ann Oravec
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJCCP.2018010103
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This article outlines hoarding issues involving virtual goods (including databases, videos, images, avatars, and digital documents) in workplaces, households, and personal contexts. It explores the implications of the growing literature on digital or virtual hoarding for psychological as well as organizational approaches to computing technology. It covers related security issues, intellectual property concerns, and matters pertaining to information flow in organizational settings, which often provide models for individuals as to how to preserve their own information-related materials. The article includes reflections about moral and personal dimensions of virtual hoarding, with emphases on information ethics and the opportunistic appropriation of organizational or household data for individual gain. It underscores the importance of education on how archiving practices can assist in dealing with digital hoarding issues. Organizations along with individuals face substantial losses through compulsions to “save” virtual goods without appropriate strategies for managing them over time.
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The hoarding of “virtual goods” is generating concern and has the potential to be even more costly for organizations than its physical correlate, given the high economic value of many kinds of information. Virtual goods are non-physical items that are instantiated in some physical and/or electronic media; they are often associated with specific “intellectual property” categories and values. Many kinds of virtual entities have financial and productive value; intellectual property considerations structure how these entities are owned and/or controlled by individuals and organizations for certain periods of time. Intellectual property can include copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Marginal accumulation of virtual goods (such as digital documents and musical or video files) has been construed as having fairly little physical impact on the planet (Fried, 2014), except for the problems involved with the production of computing equipment and electricity, which can produce considerable levels of toxicity and greenhouse gases (van Bussel, Smit, & van de Pas, 2015). Once the basic equipment is manufactured and placed in a secure, temperature-controlled environment, additional virtual goods can be added with little environmental damage. For example, social media users who hoard increasing numbers of friends on Facebook, often without knowing the individuals involved, may be considered as engaging in hoarding yet little damage is done to the planet’s ecosystem. In contrast, many varieties of hoarding of physical goods present substantial environmental and public health challenges, such as in the hoarding of pets or perishable food items (Campos-Lima, et al., 2015; Oravec, 2015). In terms of its physical footprint, the collections of images and videos that can be placed even on an inexpensive digital device can dwarf a comparable assortment of canvas, print, or film renditions. However, the hoarding of virtual materials can have other overall negative impacts on society, including potential intellectual property violations. Questions of what an appropriate level of collection and retention of virtual goods in various contexts is have yet to be answered, since the era of widespread access to database resources has only been a few decades in length.

Below is a case study of the apparent hoarding of virtual goods, published in the BMJ Case Reports (associated with the British Medical Journal).

Owing to his object hoarding, the patient felt embarrassed to invite people over. The patient also hoarded digital pictures, which started 5 years earlier when he obtained a digital camera. Digital photography was his main daytime activity; he took up to 1000 images every day, mainly of landscapes. He had difficulty discarding these pictures, even though many were very similar, because they brought back memories. As with his objects, the patient felt attached to his digital pictures. He had four external hard drives containing the original pictures and four external hard drives containing backups. He never used or looked at the pictures he had saved, but was convinced that they would be of use in the future. He planned to merge pictures when new technologies would become available and thought some pictures would be suitable for future publication. The patient indicated that organising the large number of digital pictures caused feelings of frustration and was very time-consuming, taking 3–5 h a day on average. It interfered with his sleeping pattern and kept him from other activities such as cleaning his house, going outside and relaxing (van Bennekom et al., 2015, p. 1).

Files that are not properly identified and stored might be seen as appropriately “saved” if placed in the cloud or other mass storage system. However, if metadata about the files are not available, the files may be essentially worthless, wasting precious organizational or household resources. Gormley and Gormley (2012) describe the condition of “information clutter” as running parallel with hoarding behavior, a situation that is generally not conducive to conducting efficient workplace operations.

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