It’s in the homes of spiteful old widows that one finds such cleanliness. — Fyodor Dostoevsky
I cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be confused with a clean-freak. My private office is kept in a state of carefully managed chaos, occasionally disrupted by a biannual reorganization of the piles, the odd vacuuming, or an irregular exposure to a dust cloth, isolated from the ravages of the cleaning crew that patrols the public spaces of my office keeping them to the impeccable standards of the attorney I share space with.
Even the physical manifestations of my digital world embody this laissez-faire approach to neatness – cables run freely along baseboards, bursting from their cable ties to add a bit of kinetic color to the drab, industrial black demarcation of the boundary between wall and floor. Printers, routers, disks and CPUs are scattered between bookshelves, desktops, and tabletops; often sitting check by jowl with books, orchids, and the occasional stuffed frog – location being determined more by the availability of an electrical outlet than any cohesive plan – it’s feng shui colliding with Thomas Edison.
But cross the digital divide, and it is a far different story. My digital desktop is a stark expanse of lovely, precise (almost compulsive) order. A few files (my most immediate matters) sit with military precision along the periphery of my monitor, leaving vast expanses of uncluttered pixels to be managed by virtual desktops – one to a file, each corralling the applications needed for that matter.
This obsessive drive for digital neatness extends far beyond a simple scheme for matter management, as digital housekeeping and garbage collection is performed with far more regularity than its physical counterpart, as automated scripts regularly sweep my disks for the digital detritus left when files are deleted, consigning it to digital purgatory with multiple overwrites while other members of my digital cleaning crew defragment my disks and picking up after my forays across the web.
Now, this maniacal compulsion to keep my digital world is not without rewards; disk access is faster, data destruction is assured, browsers run faster, privacy is improved, and it is easier to find stuff. Yet, this obsession for digital order, this drive for a white-glove clean electronic office is not fueled by rewards. It is the remaining remnant of an early exposure to Fortran – that punch card based, fixed column, 32 statement rite of passage for scientific programmers of a certain age. Fortran was a language intolerant of free expression and abstract form; programming in it was as much about rigid adherence to layout as it was about syntax.
Since those early days, I have been introduced to modern programming languages, those bohemian object oriented tarts with their free formatting and loose line lengths, but cannot break free from the comfort of a neatly tabbed page of code – it’s that darn primacy biting me in the ass – and that comfort, that sense of “rightness”, has leaked from those old pages of code; infecting my digital environs with an unwholesome cleanliness usually reserved for Russian novels.