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[Digital Simplicity] Does your refrigerator spark joy?


Just like the merciless ransomware which locked down my entire hard disk drive overnight, the sudden demise of my refrigerator turned a whole array of food items into something closer to trash. It marked more than the end of a home appliance; my everyday life, aided by the modern gadget, was melting. Literally.

When I woke up in the morning early this week, the beloved and always-reliable fridge had leaked a stream of water that was now trickling across the floor. When I opened the door for the freezer compartment, most items had melted back to their original form, oozing strange liquids that formed a rivulet that flowed out of the door.

I was utterly devastated. The fridge, for all its defects and strange nighttime noises, symbolized part of my adult life. I bought the fridge nearly 20 years ago, and there had been no major problem with it ever since.

The fridge’s marvelous longevity contrasted sharply with many of the digital devices that I had bought in recent years. For instance, all the smartphones I purchased became obsolete quickly, sometimes in just a couple of years, with their batteries quickly turning useless and their hardware systems failing to catch up with the constant updates designed only for the latest models.

Desktop computers, laptops and other gadgets that I had bought were either poorly made or vulnerable to the fast-paced updates that made old models virtually useless far earlier than expected.

When a technical support engineer from the electronics firm that created my trusty fridge came to my apartment to check out the condition of the fridge, he did not hide his surprise.

“How come you never called technical support?” he asked.

“There has never been any problem with this refrigerator,” I said, proudly.

In fact, I had been secretly hoping this time-warping fridge would last forever, but did not dare to share my thoughts with him.

“Isn’t it amazing that my fridge lasted almost 20 years? I guess the latest models are not built to last like this one,” I said.

“Oh, old models were built to last longer, definitely,” he was quick to agree with my observation. “But there’s nothing I can do to fix this one since its motor and other parts are broken beyond repair.”

My hopes for a miraculous last-minute revival of the fridge were dashed.

Shortly after the fridge technician declared its official death, I cleaned up the formerly edible items that filled the freezer and refrigerator compartments. It turned out that almost none of the items occupying precious fridge space held any real long-term value. They were useless, after all, when the power of the fridge was turned off. They hid their true identity behind shiny ice, pretending to be nice foodstuffs. I discarded them all.

In retrospect, I was shoving all sorts of useless food items into the fridge in hopes of cooking and having nice meals in the future. Just as I keep buying books in hopes of reading them some day, only for that day not to come, foodstuffs squeezed into the fridge stayed frozen and uneaten for a long time, only to be dumped when their icy world melted away.

The bad habit of accumulating useless items is not limited to professional hoarders. As with my fridge’s sorry state, my other personal domains -- my desk area in the newsroom and my digital space in a host of computers, tablets and smartphones -- are filled with sundry items that I hope would be used for a great purpose someday in the future, but are very likely to share the tragic fate of the contents of my fridge.

Marie Kondo, who came to worldwide fame in 2011 with her bestselling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” advises that people should only keep those items that spark joy.

When I was pulling out the melted remains of the food in my icebox, nothing sparked joy. Instead, a sense of regret and guilt hit me.

The lesson I learned from its overnight demise is that I have to tidy up the fridge regularly and throw away any item that does not spark joy.

Extending the lesson to my digital storage, I am now fully motivated to organize my digital files that are scattered in different devices and remain in a chaotic state. The only problem is that there are too many files accumulated over the decades. If I follow Kondo’s tidying-up method to simplify my digital archives, I have to check every single file one by one to see whether they spark joy. I bet the computers will break down long before I sort out the files worth preserving.

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldcorp.com)

Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.
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