Zen and the Art of Searching for Lost Computer Files

Spend your quarantine digging through your digital attic

Simon Pitt
Published in
8 min readApr 20, 2020


The silhouette of a hand pointing out something against a neon background.
Photo: Aitor Diago/Moment/Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself trying to find things. Sometimes I manage to find them; sometimes I don’t. I found my ice cream maker and my hole punch. I didn’t find the photograph I took when I was around 12 years old of the day the big tree fell down at school.

The reason for this hunting is the coronavirus. Indirectly — but ultimately it’s the root cause. Since the lockdown started, I’ve become much more confident in finding lost things. It would be too much to call it a silver lining, but I know that recently lost items are somewhere in my flat as I’ve barely been anywhere else.

Trapped inside, I’ve gone on excursions indoors as an alternative to day trips. My flat isn’t big, so these excursions consist of looking at things I haven’t looked at lately: the drawer of batteries and string, the tub of fuses, and that thing to get the SIM out of iPhones. Once I ran out of physical places to look, I started looking in digital places—a tour of my hard drives and web services.

Really this began when a friend from school asked if I remembered the tree that fell down. Not only did I remember it, I said, but I also had a photograph. And so I started searching.

Enter search term

On computers, much of the way we find things is by searching. Also, much of the way we don’t find things is by searching. It isn’t by chance that Windows quietly renamed Find to Search. Our expectations have been adjusted.

In typical Apple fashion, you navigate around your Mac with the optimistically named Finder. The search tool is called Spotlight, lighting up your computer like a theater so every file has its Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame. Windows users have Explorer. I can’t help imagining myself in a pith helmet, hacking the undergrowth with a machete. On Mac, the only place you get this jungle feeling is when you leave the Apple-controlled world and go onto the internet using Safari.

This is the problem with searching: You have to know what you want to find.



Simon Pitt

Media techie, software person, and web-stuff doer. Head of Corporate Digital at BBC, CTO of NSN, but views my own. More at pittster.co.uk

Recommended from Medium


See more recommendations