So you bought my old computer and found the equally old hard drive still active. I’m sorry to hear that because I did everything they say to do to remove my files. Unlike in those Mission Impossible movies, the whole “this hard drive will self-destruct in 5 seconds” thing didn’t seem to work. I’ll have to trust that you’ll be considerate and delete everything before you use the hard drive. Thank you in advance for doing that.
On the other hand, if you turn out to be less trustworthy, all you’ll achieve by going through my old files is a monumental waste of time. To give you a flavor of what you’ll find, here’s a short list:
1) Thousands of photos of my travels. I’ve enjoyed losing myself in nearly three dozen countries on four continents. Some of the photos are exceptional, fully capturing the majesty of the old-world architecture in Europe, the pristine glaciers in Patagonia, and the cacophony of Asian capitals. Other photos are less exceptional, but do carry the triggers for many personal memories that cannot be seen, only experienced. And then of course there are the crap photos and duplicates that I would delete except that it would take so many hours to do so that it really isn’t worth the trouble. Rest assured that if you were to try to sell any of them for personal profit I would casually track you down to the ends of the Earth and sue you for theft, or maybe have you tossed off a waterfall in Thailand. Are you willing to take that chance? Jus’ sayin’.
2) At least forty-seven drafts of every document I ever prepared for work. Sorry about this, but with more than 30 years in consulting behind me I’ve prepared thousands of documents, letters, emails, and analyses. Many of these were several hundred pages long and were updated perhaps dozens of times over the one to seven year preparation time. Since sometimes I would be asked to delete something to create a new draft, and then later asked to put it back in, I established a habit of saving every version so I wouldn’t have to recreate anything from scratch. Yes, I realize that searching through 47 drafts to find the one thing I needed would take more time than recreating it, but still, there’s a principle involved here, right. Like the photographs, going back and spending the time to delete old files just hasn’t been worth it. Feel free to figure out which ones are the old useless files (since they aren’t labeled as such) and which ones contain proprietary information that my former clients would prefer be kept secret. I’m sure they would pay big dollars. Or probably not.
3) My works in progress, also known in the writing business as WIPs or, perhaps more accurately, delusions of grandeur. Given that my list of “books to write” is nearly a score in number, my old hard drive likely has 7 different novels on it, six of which never made it past that amazing first sentence that surreptitiously (and quite gloriously at the time) popped into my head. There are also reams of supporting files and information for the ten or more non-fiction works I’ve started and mean to get to after I complete the current WIP. Or two. Or was it three? If you’re really lucky you’ll find the vignettes for the erotic novel that I intend to write so I can become instantly rich (a la that “50 Shades” woman). This will, of course, fund the rest of my life writing books worth reading.
4) Hundreds of PDFs and Word documents that I felt were so incredibly important that I had to immediately download them for future reading. Most remain unread, though on the rare occasions I start to read one, I decide either 1) it wasn’t worth reading at all, or 2) I definitely want to read it, at which point I close it and spend more time going through the same hundreds of PDFs rather than spend that same time actually reading one so I can get it off the hard drive. There’s a reason we have terabyte-sized hard drives, you know.
5) My “Favorites” list for four different web browsers. Remember those 47 drafts of every document and the dozens of works in progress? Well, for every one of them I’ve collected dozens (hundreds?) of web pages duly saved in a list whose organization can be best described as “random.” Sure, that makes it essentially useless, especially since I can just Google a few keywords and find it again anyway, only to forget why I thought it was important enough to save in the first place. Since I don’t know which ones I’ve saved, there is a strong likelihood I have the same page saved several times.
After reading this it strikes me that the best way to ensure you never find anything of value in my old hard drive is to let you spend the rest of your life looking for it. So go ahead. Knock yourself out. After a few days skimming through the patently unhelpful file names your head is likely to explode anyway. See, you should have picked the “tossed off the waterfall” option; the view is beautiful from up there, so I expect you would have enjoyed the trip down. The landing may have been a bit abrupt, but hey, you risked it when you starting going through my old hard drive.
[The above was inspired by a writing prompt I ignored for months and to which I finally decided to write a response, mostly because I kept finding references to it whenever I saved another PDF to my new hard drive.]
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.