Have Gmail made us lazy and unstructured?

Have Gmail made us lazy and unstructured?

We hear it all the time. The amount of data and information is exploding in a faster pace than ever. We produce and collect information like never before, and with 5G and IOT on the rise, this is not going to slow down.

In fact, the largest companies in the world have business models based on information and data. That is why The Economist is talking about a new world order:

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Source: Equinor presentation: Data Management Strategy and The Economist.

As we can see from this illustration, before 2011, the energy companies dominated. From 2019, however, we see that the fire largest companies are tech companies, with data and information as a key asset in their business models.

How does this impact our lives and working habits? Before we look at that, let´s talk about what have been the main drivers for this explosion of information and data.

There are typically two main conditions that need to work together, and they did, in order for the unimaginable growth in amount of data in the world.

Computational power and storage cost:

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When the capacity of the devices and computers increases, and the cost of storage drops like a rock, we have a situation where all the petabytes of information can be collected and stored. That is why we se the rapid growth in both connected devices and global data volume:

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So, is this all good, or does it have some problematic implications to our lives and work habits? There are many issues that can be raised when looking at this enormous growth of data being stored. Privacy and environmental issues (data collection and storage requires big data centers and a lot of energy) are a couple of important concerns.

But those are topics for another day. I want to raise another question:

Are we getting lazier and less structured?

When storage cost is next to nothing, and capacity is almost unlimited, why bother deleting anything, or why be selective about the things we keep?

Consider how you use Gmail, for example. When was the last time you deleted messages from your inbox? For me, I can´t remember. I read the emails I´m interested in, the other hundreds of emails coming in each day, I mark as read in a bulk operation, and continue my day. The search function in Gmail is so powerful that I can (for the most part) easily find the emails I need to find. As long as Google lets me keep almost unlimited numbers of emails, I don´t have any reason to delete anything.

It´s easy, especially for the younger workforce, to quickly adopt this approach at work as well,  with the risk of making us lazy and unstructured.

But unlike Gmail, we can´t possibly just keep every piece of information that is created.

As the Head of Enterprise Data Management at Equinor, puts it, when talking about the huge amounts of data collected from the company´s many operations:

“Can we keep it all? NO, we cannot and we should not.. We need to have a plan, a structure and a strategy to handle all this information”. Read more about Equinor´s data management strategy here (Presentation given on Digitale Dager 2019)

When storage cost is next to nothing, and capacity is almost unlimited, why bother deleting anything, or why be selective about the things we keep?


So, unlike the Gmail inbox, we cannot just rely on storage capacity and searching capabilities.

We need to have a plan, a strategy that clearly defines thing like

  • What to keep, and for how long?
  • Where to store the information?
  • How to store it, and what metadata should we use?
  • Who should have access?
  • How do we share the information?

…and so on.

The point is, without a data management strategy, we can quickly become lazy and unstructured,  trying to keep everything and filling up our servers and folders. That, in turn, can have negative impact on security, cost, efficiency etc.

Read our in-depth article on records management for oil and gas companies here.