As technology has evolved, people have adapted to the changes in many different ways. For people who have hoarding tendencies, digital and virtual storage have made it easier to avoid discovery. As with a cluttered home, people who hoard digitally face the same psychological and emotional challenges that prevent them from disposing of any digital material they possess.
Some of the similarities to traditional hoarding scenarios are:
The fear of letting go of something that may be useful at a later point
Anxiety about losing truly valuable items along with everything else being kept
The inability to organize items in ways that make them manageable
An unawareness of how much clutter is being amassed because of a lack of objectivity
Digital hoarding is also seductive because a digital platform can replace a lot of physical items previously hoarded (e.g. DVDs and CDs). It provides an unlimited amount of space to feed the compulsion hoarders feel. On top of that, digital space is easy accessible and inexpensive, further separating the hoarder from any harm the behavior is causing.
Some other negative effects of digital hoarding are:
Lowered social interaction. This type of compulsion leads to a media addiction, leaving less time for real, physical contact with friends and family
While the cost of storage is inexpensive, with enough storage, the cost does add up! Whether purchasing numerous hard drives, or paying a company monthly or annual fees, one is bound to eventually feel the hit. Also, electricity bills will rise with the constant computer usage and backups being done.
The internet offers so much open content, that it is easy for a digital hoarder to amass vast amounts of items for storage
There is also a social component that some hoarders experience through the internet – the desire to hoard online relationships through social media. Hoarders can freely join as many groups, forums, and pages as they choose with no desire or ability to manage their interactions. They may also seek to gain as many “friends” (i.e. on Facebook) as possible without really engaging with the people and/or having the slightest of associations with them.
The problem with digital hoarding is that it can be hidden, and generally, many people are disorganized with their digital data. As with other hoarding practices, it is important to really examine yourself or someone you are concerned about, to see if there is a problem. One of the first things to look for is difficulty in erasing the most mundane of documents.
With technology changing so rapidly, you can also look out for outdated programs, file types, media formats, etc. that may never be used or needed again. If emails are a problem, most email providers offer filters so you can organize the email sender into appropriate folders. An easy first step is to unsubscribe from newsletters that are never read and identify ones that should go to junk email/spam folder.
Many do not see digital hoarding as problematic because virtual space seems endless. It seems to be a victimless crime, except to the person that is lost in the hoarding behavior and risks having any quality of life because of it. As expressed, compulsive hoarding is usually a subsequent diagnosis to other issues. Most people would not recommend an addict take a drug on the basis of it being undetectable. Especially if they were able to see the negative effects it was having on the person. In the same way, it is important to address this issue so that more will not be an ongoing casualty of the disorder.