Virtual Hoarding

Virtual Hoarding

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch373
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This article outlines hoarding issues involving virtual or digital goods (including video and image files, digital documents, etc.) in the context of workplace and household settings. It covers “dark data” security issues and intellectual property concerns as well as matters related to information flow. It discusses research about why and how individuals hoard both physical and virtual entities, outlining how this hoarding can negatively impact particular systems. The article also includes reflections about the moral and personal dimensions of virtual hoarding, with an emphasis on information ethics and concerns about strategic and opportunistic hoarding. Virtual hoarding issues may not seem to be critical given the decreased costs of on-site and backup storage as well as relatively-inexpensive storage facilities in the “cloud.” However, data that are not managed in terms of their formats, metadata, and substrata could certainly present issues for organizations; data that are inappropriately removed from the standard flow of information within organizations also present potential losses.
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The study of virtual or digital hoarding is just emerging, and new case studies, survey results, and other forms of research are being undertaken and disseminated (Oravec, 2015; van Bennekom, Blom, Vulink, & Denys, 2015). Although this article focuses on the hoarding of virtual goods, some discussion of the hoarding of physical objects may provide background and insights. In a variety of social settings, hoarding behavior involving physical items is expanding in its impact; hoarding has been construed as a mental health issue in some organizations (Bratiotis, Schmalisch, & Steketee, 2011) and has been labeled as a disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Capacities for managing the locations of and access to physical as well as virtual entities are often considered central to competent societal functioning. Lepselter (2011) relates dozens of negative characterizations of hoarding in newspapers, television, and social media. The hoarding of “virtual goods” is also generating concern and has the potential to be even more costly for organizations than its physical correlate. Files that are not properly identified and stored might be seen as appropriately “saved” if placed in the “cloud.” However, if metadata about the files are not available, the files may be essentially worthless, wasting precious organizational 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.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dark Data: Data that are currently inaccessible or unusable by researchers and users ( Heidorn, 2008 ). Data can be “dark” if they are not stored in appropriate ways or provided with metadata or context.

Ephemeral Communications: Communications that are deleted or otherwise not made available after a certain, relatively-short time period; the Internet messaging application Snapchat provides a platform for such interactions.

Information Flow: The circulation of information between and among various entities and individuals. In organizational contexts, information flow can be blocked if individuals hoard information rather than distributing it when needed.

Intellectual Property: 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.

Remote Deletion (or “Remote Wiping”): Deletion of digital material from a device or artifact (through a networked connection) without direct physical possession of the device or artifact. This procedure can be used to remove potentially-sensitive material from a stolen phone; it can also be used to delete problematic or suspicious files from an Internet of Things (IoT) device.

OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder: A “common, disabling psychiatric disorder characterized by intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress or anxiety and repetitive thoughts or actions” ( Grant, 2014 , p. 646). It has been linked to some forms of hoarding behavior.

Virtual Goods: These are non-physical items that are instantiated in some physical and/or electronic media. Virtual goods are often associated with specific intellectual property categories and values (see “Intellectual Property” above).

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