The trash can metaphor in computing is as old as the desktop metaphor itself. It was first introduced with the Apple Lisa user interface, and found its way to the Macintosh. Apple patented the whole idea, and sued anyone who tried to use the same name, resulting in other user interfaces implementing the exact same principle but just named differently. Despite its old age, and the fact it barely changed over the decades, many people have issues with the traditional concept.One of those issues is one I personally can really (and then I mean really really) identify with. Every now and then, I delete a file. I drag it to the trash icon, press delete, whatever; it ends up in the trash. The icon now changes to its “full” state – which triggers some of my obsessive compulsive neurones to fire like crazy, almost forcing me to empty the trash can. This means deleting a file automatically becomes a two-step process – especially on my PowerBook since Mac OS X seems to lack a shortcut like Windows’
shift+delete. I’ve been improving my habits lately, and the compulsion to empty the trash has lessened, but it’s still there.
Apparantly, I’m not the only one with this (admittedly, minor) problem. Jean-Francois Fortin Tam writes in his short but amusing rant “I Don’t Want to Care About the Trash“:
The trash can can become a very easy-to-trigger compulsion. I mean, it’s there, sitting innocently in the corner of your panel or desktop, and it’s… not empty. And it is eyeballing you, saying, “HEY, empty me you messy freak!”. And you do it. Immediately. Every time you put something in.
Instead of just trying to resist his compulsion, Jean-Francois tried to come up with a possible solution to our mutual problem. He says that the issue is that the existing solution to this problem (
shift+delete) is unsafe, because you might accidentally delete files you did not intend to delete, while the two-step method is annoying. “Let’s recapitulate our situation: the ‘safer’ two-step deletion (move, empty) is annoying, and the ‘faster’ real deletion is dangerous.”
He proposes two alternatives, centred around automating the emptying of the trash. The first solution empties the entire trash directory every 24 hours, and of course informs the user of this timeframe. The second solution, which is more complicated but also allows for finer control, is where the trash keeps each individual file in the trash for a pre-defined period of time (say, 12 hours) and automatically deletes it afterwards. Jean-Francois made some mockups to illustrate his ideas.
I am not sure how his solutions fix the actual problem we started out with. The only way I can see how is by removing the trash icon from the desktop/dock/menubar, so that the filled trash bin doesn’t bother you. If you don’t do that, the automated deletion idea does not actually remove the thing that triggers the compulsion in the first place: the filled trash can icon. However, how are you going to access the trash directory if there is no icon on your desktop?
Other OCD patients can pose their ideas in the comments’ section. I’m certainly listening.