Like nearly all unfortunate white collar workers, the computer provided for me at my job is a PC. I don’t know the brand—that’s not important. When I want to delete a document, I’m asked if I want to move it to the “recycle bin.” Okay, I’ve been an environmentalist since I was a teenager. Growing up in a small town, recycling was a foreign concept, vaguely communistic even, but I could understand that limited resources would run out. Living paycheck to paycheck, that was perfectly clear. The town where I grew up still doesn’t offer recycling, but having a recycling bin on a computer screen? Are the electrons from my documents indeed being recycled, or is this just a way to make me feel good about throwing away something somebody spent hours putting together? It seems such a tautology to me.
This recycled world can be a scary place. I was a victim of identity theft once. Thankfully I hardly have enough to steal that the thief got away with very little before the credit card company found him. It meant having to go a few weeks without purchasing power, and a possible stain on my ratings. One merchant didn’t want to refund the charges, although it was clear that they were illegally made. So we recycle our sensitive material with the greatest care. It has to be shredded first. We had one of those home shredders that took hours of time to feed in “up to six sheets” at a time (two was the actual limit), and before you knew it the weekend was over and you had bags full of bird nesting and you still had to take them to the recycling place. So our local community, we learned, participates in a shredding drive. My wife and I went a few weekends ago and it was so popular that we were turned away at the gate. The line was too long and the trucks were almost full.
This past weekend I tried again. I had to drive to a new location where, I kid you not, the traffic pattern had to be changed to accommodate all the shredders. I was kind of glad in an impatient sort of way. I’d brought a book to read, anticipating such a wait. I was a bit anxious, however, with a police officer watching. I mean I had a book to my face in traffic, after all. At least it wasn’t a cell phone. The line crept along until I was finally admitted. I had six bags of confidential stuff in the trunk, and I was glad to have the chance to have my personal life obliterated by the huge, roaring trucks. As I inched to the front of the line, the check-in lady asked me what town I was from, and in response gave me a handful of papers that I would only have to recycle. I thought of my recycle bin on my desktop at work. There seems to be no end to disposing of the information that defines our lives. Some would call it a tautology.