Students don't organize files anymore

Originally published at: Students don't organize files anymore | Boing Boing


This isn’t an accident. Apple and Google’s UX folks explicitly created this new “all search” paradigm. Google Desktop and Spotlight were introduced some years ago, and Apple now defaults every Finder view to “All Files” which is a flat list of your entire disk within which you are expected to search. You can still use folders (I do) but this other option is explicitly provided and the expected default.

So really, these kids are doing this because it’s the default and is actually faster if you’re used to it. Software development IDEs have done this for many years as well. The quickest way to jump to another source file among thousands in a project is to hit a hotkey and type a few letters that you know are in the file name. They don’t even have to be consecutive. Any fragment you can think of that might be there will work. It works way better than you expect if you’ve never tried it. I can’t quite bring myself to abandon my file system to this chaos however. It gives me the bad feels. You do you, though, kids!


I get and appreciate that younger people consume and discover digital information differently than I do. However, I don’t know how one codes new software or structures a repository on a server without understanding the concepts of files/documents and folders/directories. It’s a basic metaphor that goes back to the first libraries thousands of years ago, and it almost seems as we’re returning to the old divide between a priestly scholar class and everyone else. But who knows, it may finally be time to transcend all the old models.


PSA: If you’re not using voidtools’ Everything on your Windows machine, you’re doing it wrong!


Kids these days!!!

Seriously? I don’t know if I know a single adult who is as diligent about file organization as I am and I still have random things stuck here and there. And I don’t remember the last time I saw a colleague’s clean desktop; or even one remotely organized (without Stacks).

Methinks these neurotic nerds have a neurotic nerd confirmation bias.


I read this a few days ago and rolled my eyes. It isn’t just that students don’t organize files. They don’t know how to use computers - that includes phones. Of course there are exceptions who are tech savvy but they are the exception.

I teach college and I will sometimes have students go to a link and there is always at least one that doesn’t know how to enter a url. They are so used to the browser suggesting something that they just go with that and when it doesn’t suggest the right link they screw it up and have no idea what to do.

I have seen students type google into the search bar and hit search which searches for google on google. Then once they were on google they searched for youtube, click on the link for youtube, and then search for the name of the video they wanted to find.

I was teaching students how to do something on their computer and said, “then hit return” and many of them didn’t know return and enter were the same thing.

I also teach public speaking and to force them to rehearse I have them upload a video of them rehearsing. This semester I have had two students submit a video of them holding their phone up to their web camera and playing a video of themselves giving their speech on their phone.

And when students have macs, which I don’t use, they are almost always clueless about how to use them.


Boy, I sure hope they don’t expect to get a job in a multigenerational, multicontract organization where every contractual action and expenditure needs to be meticulously documented, document retention is required by law and regulation and audited annually, where there is staff turnover, and portfolios get rearranged on a regular basis.

This might work for personal file usage, but wouldn’t cut it for the banking and government grant and contracting sector. I hope someone is/has taught them the basics and discipline of file organization. I certainly don’t have the time or inclination to do so, and I’m old enough to consider this a basic skill on the order of tying one’s shoe.

(Feeling grumpy this morning)


Must be wonderful if you get to inherit a project like that with 1000 files all in a mess. You can find a file once you know the name, but how do you get started?


Kids don’t know things most people learn in adulthood! Wowie!

I mean I learned to organize file structures in a computer in my late teens and early twenties because of work too. Sure it’s because there was so little exposure prior to that but I find the expectation that kids know how to do things that really aren’t applicable to their life yet continually weird. People tend to learn what they have to learn when they have to learn it.


There are several layers to file organization, starting from hierarchy’s organization to file naming conventions. Sure, not everyone Is diligent about adhering to the entire structure (I’m guilty, too, manly in naming conventions) but at a minimum files should be located in the right high-level folder.

For example, if the contract, contract mods, procurements and travel authorization and support for the AusAID project are at least in a dedicated AusAID directory, that goes a long way from dumping all that info from 20 contracts onto a desktop and then having to try to answer a question such as: “was this consultant’s travel approved?”, “did we meet minimum competition requirements when we purchased those 20 computers 3 years ago?” or “who approved this subcontract that has gone horribly wrong.”

One would hope that AusAID folder would at least have sub folders for Contract, Travel, and Procurement, but at least that narrows things down when one has to pull documentation for auditors, clients, or legal when thousands or millions or dollars are on the line.


Exactly. Working in law firms, consultancies, or… any large business, with older people who rely on file systems, not to mention the need to keep your own work legible to others in an organization in case you leave or ever want another person to track your thinking. Old fogeys like me will need to accept that this skill now must be taught - and younger folks will need to work to understand how valuable the skill set still is even if it’s not personally helpful for them.


I’m waiting for the inevitable studies that will probably contradict each other, on the one hand saying “Yeah, that disorganization isn’t as efficient as the disorganized think it is,” and the other “Nope. You’re wrong.” Similar to studies on those who claim to that “kids today” only THINK they are great multi-taskers, but evidence indicates otherwise.

And then there’s the doom and gloom crowd – of which I consider myself to on the fringes of – that worry about an over-dependence on “magic”, i.e. we are implementing Clarke’s 3rd law sort of in reverse. Clark said:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

and we seem to be on a Moore’s Law kind of spiral towards both advancing the technology faster than the average person can understand, and not passing on the understandings that we have. So each generation has more and more black boxes that “Gee, I don’t know how it works. It’s just a magic thing that does my bidding. And if it breaks, I don’t want to try to fix it. I’ll just get a new magic box from Magic, Inc. – Amazon, Best Buy, or whomever.”


Generally, yes. Technically, no.
Not sure if I should if I should mock you for being young or for being old.


Kids these days!


Well, but who are your students? Are they primarily working class students? Some of mine (I’m at a CC) have a hard time using computers, because unlike people their age who are middle or upper class (like my own kid whose dad (my husband) is a programmer who has been using computers since he was 10), they did not have access to them. I hope you’re helping them to navigate what might be new technology to them. Other wise, they might have a hard time getting through school that is increasingly dependent on computing and the internet.

Seth Meyers Lol GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers


and if you use unique file names. I have so many files on my computer with a name like Figure1, that if the file structure (and search paths) were not correctly organized finding things would take forever because a blanket search of the disk brings up way to many files


I didn’t say the files aren’t also in a hierarchy of folders. It’s just that it’s still quicker to jump around by typing a couple of characters than trying to dig through the hierarchy every time.


I used to do meticulous organization of my email, with numerous directories and subfolders. Now I just use one great big directory (.pst) for each year and just search by keyword. Partially this has to do with a change in job function a few years back. My regular files are still meticulously sorted.

I do find the windows search functions to be dreadful, especially if searching on server-based files. Seems to have gotten awful after WINXP went away.

At work now we use Jira and confluence for most projects now which kinda forces you to use a keyword search to find anything, but if you’re used to that it works fine. I’m slowly coming around.


This has always been true, though. Most people don’t know most things about most technologies in their lives. Few people really know how cars work, or how plumbing their house works. People muddle their way through, learning as little as possible to get their work done, for the most part. We all do this with most things, and instead focus on the things we care about. For better or worse, this just “people”.


This is why so many enterprise software suites and solutions force the issue. Also because literally every place one works and every industry and every team within an organization will have its own unique “system” except where something external has been implemented.

Information systems is a major for a reason.

People suck at this.