How many emails are in your inbox? If the answer is thousands, or if you often struggle to find a file on your computer among its cluttered hard drive, then you might be classed as a digital hoarder.
In the physical world, hoarding disorder has been recognised as a distinct psychiatric condition among people who accumulate excessive amounts of objects to the point that it prevents them living a normal life. Now, research has begun to recognise that hoarding can be a problem in the digital world, too.
A case study published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 described a 47-year-old man who, as well as hoarding physical objects, took around 1,000 digital photographs every day. He would then spend many hours editing, categorising, and copying the pictures onto various external hard drives. He was autistic, and may have been a collector rather than a hoarder but his digital OCD tendencies caused him much distress and anxiety.
The authors of this research paper defined digital hoarding as “the accumulation of digital files to the point of loss of perspective which eventually results in stress and disorganisation”. By surveying hundreds of people, my colleagues and I found that digital hoarding is common in the workplace. In a follow-up study, in which we interviewed employees in two large organisations who exhibited lots of digital hoarding behaviours, we identified four types of digital hoarder.
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