Will Downgrading my iPhone Storage Upgrade my Life?

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Original Pop Art by Charles Fazzino

I downgraded my iPhone storage today. Just like that. It had been on my mind for a while now, today I finally snapped. When I got this phone less than two years ago, it had nothing on it. Then I started taking photos, sending texts... obviously, I never stopped doing that, which is why we are here today -- some 143 GB worth of stuff I now need to get rid of. I have no clue what most of it is about -- is it more videos or photos or something else? is it important? do I need it? will my life be worse off without it? I don't know, but I suppose I felt pressured enough to spend money, month-on-month, just to hold on to all of it. Some kind of FOMO, perhaps, or quintessential millennial laziness... or worse, both.

This life-altering change in my storage needs comes into effect in a week. I'll need to make some cuts before that -- lots to delete, purge, or transfer elsewhere. Somehow, I need to truncate all 143 GB of stuff into a smaller bundle of 5 GB. That way, I can finally stop paying for cloud storage -- the silliest expense in my life right now, if you ask me. And that's saying something, considering my last purchase was a plush pillow.

Remember when the internet first came around? We thought it would be so simple. "Everything just stays on the cloud," they said, "so you'll always have it clean and simple." Whatever happened to that promise? Not so simple, after all, is it? Everything does stay on the "cloud", yes, but the "cloud" is actually made up of big stuff -- servers and data-centers and whatnot -- massive machines that occupy real space all over the world and cost companies tonnes of money that we, the consumers, pay a premium for. The advantage, of course, is that I no longer need to buy heavy CD/floppy disk holders or pen drives or hard drives to store my data/trash, but those used to be pretty cheap. A couple hundred bucks, at best. I now pay that every month for (cloud) storage I can't even see. I used to think that this is at least environmentally better but turns out that may not be true either. Cloud storage is said to be leaving a pretty big carbon footprint -- 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions as per one defensible study, another piece by a group of alumni from Stanford cites data that seems to prove that cloud storage is actually worse for the environment than hard storage. Wait, why did we just presume cloud-everything would be cleaner? Just because we can't see the trash doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Speaking of trash, clearing digital storage feels a bit like clearing out the trash can, doesn't it? Every morning, we take out our trash can, someone comes and collects the old bag of trash, we supplement the bin with a new bag, and the cycle repeats itself... day after day. In the digital world, however, we make the trash, we keep it, we dispose of it. If we don't, then the trash lingers and accumulates (just like real trash would, minus the stink) until it becomes a mound so colossal that even the thought of sifting through it feels intimidating -- so intimidating, that you prefer to keep paying money just to delay doing it. It's one of the cool things money can buy -- the freedom to procrastinate.

I went through the storage settings on my phone to get a view of the work that lies ahead of me. Apparently, I have 113 GB worth of just "backups" -- backups of what? I do not know. What do I even need so many backups for? When has a backup ever been truly necessary? When have I ever paused and thought, "oh wait, let me find that backup asap." That's right, never. Besides, if I buy a new phone, the clean and empty storage space should be its perk -- reinstating 113 GB of backup would immediately clutter it, and then the mound of trash will continue to intimidate my procrastinating self... until eternity. I feel stupid now. Why did I ever think backup features on phones and apps are essential? It's like saying, "Hey, I want to collect a tonne of trash and be able to lug it around wherever I go, all my life, and I will pay you good money if you let me do so." That's it. <Delete> There you go. One-click and it's all gone. Backups I will not miss because I don't know what was in them.

Up next, Photos. Some 28 GB of them. I was surprised I don't have 113 GB of Photos, but then I remembered I had way more at one point, so much more that one Storage app did not suffice and I had to also download the Google Photos app. Now, I have two Photo storage apps and not enough good photos. The memories are nice and the travel throwback pictures are definitely good to look at, but in reality, there are more screenshots and blurs and random image forwards and ugly everyday things than there are pictures of me traveling or hiking or dancing or doing general cool things. My parents were able to fit in our entire childhood into a few photo albums, but apparently, my two dozen almost-alike selfies and pictures of the pretentious vase on my table or the tree in front of my house are so picture-perfect that I choose to pay rent for their existence every month?! No more. This absurdity stops now. <Delete> There you go, no more Photos on my phone (except the backups in the Google Photos app but hey, one battle at a time).

Jeez. I had underestimated how much work this would be. So much more work than clearing out the trash can -- with real trash, at least you know you cannot procrastinate beyond a point, otherwise little insect friends will start visiting your home and that won't be pretty. With digital trash, there's no such thing. Hey, how about an app that will send creepy-crawlies on your screen if you let your storage get too stuffed? Nevermind.

So, let's get this straight. This whole thing with digital storage is i) expensive, ii) hurts the environment, iii) creates a mound of clutter in our devices that is an intimidating amount of work to even get through... yet, it's somehow better than hard storage because, what, the cloud is more recent and therefore cooler? Sigh. I know this is my area of work, and I love it, but man -- some days I feel technology is just... bonkers.

There is another matter. What is with storage space never being enough? I heard this in a Netflix documentary long ago, I am not sure which one because there are multiple documentaries on the subject of minimalism, but they said something about how we are spending on extra storage as a luxury, then collecting things to fill up the empty space, and when it runs full, upgrading our storage... and thus goes the cycle of modern life. I can see it is true for me -- I had nothing on this phone once, then I filled up all 5 GB of space that came free with it... eventually, I ended up spending money on upgrading my storage space (twice). I can't go any further. Seriously, this has got to stop. I can blame tech companies all I like, but as someone who works in tech, I get what it's like -- they kinda have to offer what people need... customers first and all that. Imagine if Apple said, "Hey, Sugandha, we care about you. We think you have a problem because you really shouldn't have this much stuff on your phone because life is about smelling the flowers and looking at sunsets, therefore we will not be allowing you to add any more things to your device which, in case you forgot, had cost you a bomb." I'd be pretty livid if they did that. Like hello, boundaries and all?!

Anyway, that should be all. I'll go back to downgrading my iPhone storage. Now that I am doing this, it feels silly to have procrastinated for so long. Someone could have had a real use for all the money I spent on storing these things I never had any use for. I am deleting most of it pretty instantly, by the way, because deep down I know they don't matter. I always knew it. I guess I had held on to them "just in case". Isn't that what we do? "Just in case" everything. All I had to do was stop, think if I needed that picture/video/document or not, and move on. But nope, far be it from me -- a consumer of the digital age -- to think.

It's funny how our coffers run full with documents, pictures, videos... "memories" as we call them, of a past we didn't care about when it was the present. It's funny how living in the present is all that we talk about, when backups of the past take most of the space in our lives. It's funny, is all.