Computer Files Are Going Extinct
Technology services are changing our internet habits
I love files. I love renaming them, moving them, sorting them, changing how they’re displayed in a folder, backing them up, uploading them to the internet, restoring them, copying them, and hey, even defragging them. As a metaphor for a way of storing a piece of information, I think they’re great. I like the file as a unit of work. If I need to write an article, it goes in a file. If I need to produce an image, it’s in a file.
An ode to files.doc
Files are skeuomorphic. That’s a fancy word that just means they’re a digital concept that mirrors a physical item. A Word document, for example, is like a piece of paper, sitting on your desk(top). A JPEG is like a painting, and so on. They each have a little icon that looks like the physical thing they represent. A pile of paper, a picture frame, a manila folder. It’s kind of charming really.
One thing I like about files is there’s a consistent way of interacting with them, no matter what’s inside. Those things I mentioned above — copying, sorting, defragging — I can do those to any file. It could be an image, part of a game, or a list of my favorite utensils. Defragmenter doesn’t care. It doesn’t judge the contents.
I’ve had a love of files since I first started creating them in Windows 95. But I’ve noticed we are starting to move away from the file as a fundamental unit of work.
The rise of the services.mp3
As a teenager, I indulged in the digital equivalent of collecting and managing vinyl: I collected MP3 files. So many 128 kbps MP3 files. If you were lucky enough to own a CD rewriter, you could burn them onto a CD and pass them around between friends. CDs could hold 700 MB. That’s the equivalent of nearly 500 floppy disks!
I’d go through my collection and painstakingly add IDv1 and IDv2 music tags. As time went on, people started to develop tools that would fetch the track listings automatically from the cloud, so you could check and validate the quality of…