I just erased every shred of data on my iPhone. Every cat picture, every finely-tuned preference and every app is gone. And now as I sit here typing, I marvel at how calm I feel as I look forward to, not an agonizing process of restoring all for which I’ve worked so hard, but an easy stroll down the lane of entering my password and having everything come back just as it was, but better.
The digital devices that power our everyday lives are equal parts incredibly smart and unbelievably stupid. Their intelligence lies in an inherent ability to extend our influence over the world around us; affecting change, eliciting emotion and preventing disaster, all via a pocket-sized shell of electrons far more powerful than the massive digital brains of yesteryear.
Their downfall, however, lies in the irony of our expectations. Complex and brilliantly designed though they may be, as our intellectual prosthetics become more powerful, we ask them to do more, remember more, create more. Always more.
The problem is, they’re smart, but they ain’t that smart. And inevitably, critical mass is reached simultaneously with a point of diminishing returns. It is at this juncture that my iPhone slowly becomes equal parts help and hindrance. And thus a digital enema becomes necessary: clean the pipes and everything is hunky-dory again.
What's going on in there?
If you could look at an x-ray of your computer, smart phone, tablet—whatever—like a surgeon thoughtfully scanning the films of his patient’s wriggly innards, you would see in it all manner of detritus, scattered unceremoniously about every available surface. And like the plaque that builds, throughout the years, on the highways and byways of the human heart, this leftover information, these forgotten records of a bygone era, eventually conspire to attenuate the bandwidth we so badly need in service of our day-to-day digital activities.
It is at this point that a crossroads is reached and a decision must be made. Do I soldier bravely on, knowing full well that precious seconds of every minute are being wasted as I wait impatiently for my digital brain to catch up to the one in my head? Or do I rip off the bandaid, wasting countless hours on the deletion—and reinstallation—of all my apps, preferences, documents, personal information and cat videos?
This used to be an existential dilemma of epic proportions. I and my fellow digital-natives would dread the inevitable, like moving day at the height of summer’s insidious humidity. But then something happened. Something wonderful. The powers-that-be began a campaign; out and out warfare on the only battlefield left after the ubiquity of limitless power, infinite pixels and multiple cores rendered the good old speeds-and-feeds-argument pointless: ease of use.
Can it really be that easy?
My first encounter with the new generation of refresh-tools was, ironically, while using Windows 8. I say ironically because I’ve never regarded Microsoft as all that interested in intuitive ease-of-use features. But there it was, an option to dump everything that wasn’t nailed down, log in once the dust had settled, and have everything else come back like magic. I don’t know who was the first to think of it, but I’m glad they did.
Apple, of course, elevated this process to an art form—at least with their iOS toys. And so it stands now that I can (and do) dump every shred of customization from my iDevice just as Heidi Klum saunters onto another episode of Project Runway, and be snapping and sharing photos of my cats again by the time another semi-professional designer is ejected with a dual-cheek, European-style kiss by Seal’s ex-wife.
The moral of the story: spend some time backing everything up to whatever cloud service the manufacturer of your digital device offers, then blow everything away, let it come back automatically, and reclaim all the space, processing power and zippyness you fell in love with the day you bought that new toy of yours. You won’t be sorry.