Students don't organize files anymore

I didn’t organize my desktop 30 years ago and I don’t plan to start now. The only difference now is that I stand half a chance of finding something.


I do get a bit of a “kids these days” vibe, too, but it should be mentioned that they are doing their schoolwork on a computer so what you had to learn at work they would presumably already have to know in fourth grade or so when they begin creating files for their various essays and worksheets.


Unorganized projects have come to be the bane of my existence. As the editors get younger and younger organized editing, motion graphic and 3D projects/ elements have become more and more of a thing of the past and impossible to hand over to other artists because no one else but the person who started the project can find anything.

The annoying thing is the person who built the project always has this “you can’t find it? Don’t bother me! I titled the project XYZ that should be obvious”. “Yes to you maybe, jackass!”

Ironically they also complain allot when someone else hands them a cluster of files and they can’t find anything, but the irony fails to reach them and they never change their habits.

Organization is a core skill that I can’t understand why it vanished, but I’m letting editors go all of the time if they can get it together and now I have one person who get stuck with the shit work of organizing projects before they go out to other creatives like for Protools mix or color correction.

Makes me feel a little less insane understanding this behavior “is a thing”. Now maybe I can have a slightly different approach to teaching them how to be organized, but that’s if they are even interested. I don’t think they care at all about the headaches they cause other people and co-workers.


I will say, however, that the old file hierarchies don’t quite work as well as they could. There are only so many symlinks that I want to create. I use “find” and “updatedb / locate” a fair amount, but tagging and ZFS or other file systems that implement a “git-like” revision control seem more useful. I often have files that would seem to fit well into multiple hierarchies (e.g. is a file containing song lyrics best filed under /music/documents/ or /documents/music, /music/folk/documents, or… or…? I want “all of the above” and the ability to inject more into the hierarchy on a whim: “Oh, it’s Irish folk music lyrics. Let’s add “/irish/” somewhere into the mix.”), and being able to easily tag them with as many tags as I like, and then view a flexible hierarchy based on the tags, or navigate to the file via multiple “paths” would be handy. And sometimes, it might come in handy to see the evolution of the tagging, as well as the file contents over time. Hence the ZFS or git-like capabilities…


Not really because there’s no one to build such a structure and enforce it, and most of what you need is going to be easy to access from one big file. Maybe even easier. As a kid I organized things by file type and my name (eg. pictures, docs, spreadsheets). Nothing else was needed. That wouldn’t have worked in other contexts but for school work it was fine. No one else was using it so I pretty much knew what I was looking for when I looked and that it would be there somewhere.

In my case disks and constantly changing drive technology kept files from building up by forcing the issue but most of the cloud storage stuff has an option to just drop things into a big archive that can be searched and in some cases will kindly delete the files after a period. For most people’s personal files this is probably just fine. I actually see that as a big improvement even if it’s messy. I pretty much lost everything that was on a disk or drive eventually.

That being said, when it comes to work where many people may need to access and share files or where automated systems may need to upload or back up files in specific locations or where multiple teams of people with different access levels may need to view protected data… well then that’s definitely going require work and training to maintain regardless of someone’s age.


Um, we passed that line somewhere in the 1600s, probably. How’s your VHDL? All brushed up on VLSI are you? About hydraulic variable valve timing in your car? Got that down? Good at refining hydrocarbons into the hundred-or-so lubricants and chemicals you use daily? How are your machine shop skills? Planted a crop or built a windmill lately? What’s that? You’re relying on the expertise of others for all those things?

That’s human civilization, and how it has always been. And there have always been old fart worrywarts saying “nobody knows how anything works anymore”. As though that was ever true once we passed subsistence farming.


I’m trying to force myself to name files in a manner that is clearer than Text.docx for exactly this reason. Most of what I write results in the same sorts of files (Text.docx, Bibliography.docx, Figure1.png, etc…) only identified by the folder they’re in and their contents.


We also hold on to idioms for traditional reasons rather than logical ones. Language shapes our perceptions which shape our language… But then another generation comes along and the words have lost all meaning: Does anyone really see their “/Desktop/” as the top of a desk, with manila “folders” that have to be “opened” so that you can slide the “document” out of it to read it? And when you’re done, do you close up the folder and put it back into a filing cabinet? Shouldn’t musical recordings go into a “case” or “sleeve” instead of a “folder”? Is a video recording really a “file”? How often do we use a “computer” to “compute”? Or rather, how often do we use a computer do do something other than “compute”? (I remember telling my parents in 1966 that “Comptuers are going to get small! Everyone will have them! And we’ll stop calling them computers… We’ll call them something like ‘media units’ because people will use them like televisions, and phones, and libraries, and…” Media units didn’t catch on… C’est la vie.)

So, conscious rethinking the terminology, and nudging it in the “right” direction – whatever that might be, would seem to be worth considering, in order to better think about how we design the organization of, and the access to, information.


That’s what I was thinking. I remember kids these days having their shit be a mess since I was a kid these days.

I actually do that somewhat frequently. For one the address bar and the search bar are one and the same these days. The expectation is the browser will auto complete the URL, as often enough it does. Or at least it used to. The expectation is that the “suggestion” that pops up will directly navigate to the page, when it says the name of the site. With it’s logo. It often doesn’t. And sometimes when using certain browsers, particularly on mobile or when cutting and pasting. It will actually search the URL if you put that in.

Fact of the matter is your browser is kinda built to do it this way. Even when you don’t want it to.

The habit of shoving dates or other markers into a file name got deeply burned into my brain while doing media and communications work. With periods or dashes instead of spaces cause some software don’t like spaces.

So like ClientName.Seminar-10.9.2021. I still do this even for things I’ll never use again, or that only I will ever need.

It’s useful but half the time it’s nearly as incomprehensible.


Timely, my wife and I were JUST talking about this earlier today. She’s noticed kids in her classes have problems figuring out where files are in the school learning system when they’re doing online learning. Because they don’t think in terms of folders and files, just files. We’re moving away from the old paradigm of paper filing systems, and young folks are already adapting to it.

Me, I’ll stick to me detailed, extensive, layered filing systems. I’m anal that way. But hey, if it works for them, enjoy.


I did say “every generation”. I’m well-aware that there’s lots of stuff my grandparents, parents, and myself think of as “magic”. I still find it a little sad.

There is the “worrywart” in me that believes it’s getting worse. Injecting bleach, taking livestock deworming medication, and other superstitious behavior seems increasingly the norm. But, perhaps that’s really an artifact of “news” becoming “entertainment” and the more outrageous the better, coupled with gazillion channels of information, including BoingBoing, Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour “news” channels galore, etc. Perhaps it’s not that there are more crazies, just that we’re increasingly aware of how many there always were. But I digress. :wink:

(I did study auto mechanics in school for a semester – which I’ve completely forgotten, even though I never got a driver’s license, and have some modest skills in 3D design and printing, laser-cutting, very, very basic, digital electronics. But I’d die of starvation, or poisoning if I had to rely on my lack of knowledge of farming or chemistry. I did, however, help a friend build a prototype windmill of his own design. He was able to explain the shapes of some of the components. So I designed and made 3D PLA prints for him to test out…)

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“They have a laundry basket full of laundry,

And the contents of their fridge, their workshop, the garage…


I’ve heard the same thing from a couple of teachers I know in regard to their school’s learning management systems.

I don’t think a lot of them think in terms of files anymore, either. It’s just “stuff I’m looking for or am interested in” (be it a snippet of information, a video clip, a photo, etc.) and they’re not giving much thought to whatever container holds it.

In some ways the relational database concept might be one that’s more intuitive to them than files and folders.


I respect different ways of interfacing with computers, but as a digital art teacher who like to foster creative and critical use of digital tools, the intentional opacity digital systems cultivate for younger users - especially around file systems - is worrisome in a big-picture way and aggravating in a day to day way.

Last summer, teaching a remote digital art camp, and using all browser-based tools to best accommodate whatever hardware kids were on from home, one day one step of our process involved downloading one file from one tool so we could open it in a other tool. I’d generously budgeted ten minutes for that step, anticipating some potential snags. THAT ONE STEP TOOK US A HALF HOUR as every student’s browser+OS combo quietly socked away their file in some overloaded generic ‘downloads’ folder in some random place on their computer, without giving them a chance to choose a name for the file, and they had no idea how to navigate their file system to get to their downloaded file. It was wild. Zoom did not make troubleshooting easy, either.

This summer, on day one, we walked through turning on the “ask where to save shit” option for every browser every student was using. That helped a lot, but that step was still, consistently, the toughest thing for the kids to wrap their head around (in a camp where we were, like, coding webcam filters and building interactive 3D worlds!)


Right!? I have spent decades working to know a small amount about such a narrow slice of knowledge and it’s so useless outside of the societal context that made it relevant to me in the first place. Most everything else might as well be magic for all I really understand about it.


I learned this lesson when I assigned two history-based video games in one of my classes—Civilization and Europa Universalis. This was a decade ago, to be sure, but I spent more time helping them instal software and learning how to run it than I would have just teaching them the topic. I naively assumed they’d all know how to use their machines.


Yes. See my comment above yours for a similar take on the terminology…

Ha! I name files with spaces in direct defiance of how obnoxious I thought this was as a kid.

There’s a reason people use the conveniences of modern computers; much of the older systems’ structure was obtuse and difficult to use. I get that it was part of the growth process, but it really limited accessibility. You had to remember a million discreet commands for things that now require a click.

Granted, I was mainly just messing around with Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail on the library’s Apple ][ and learning BASIC on a TRS-80 (with a tv for the monitor!), but I have zero nostalgia for this era UX-wise.


I’m old enough to remember systems where they WERN’T the same.

edited to Add: And don’t get me started on the difference between (cancel) (send) and (cancel)(update)(send).


It’s a day without sunshine if I haven’t nested hierarchies.