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Virtually Collyer, As We Speak


I never heard of the Collyer Brothers until recently. A regrettable gap in my knowledge-base.

Turns out that Disposophobia or ‘Collyer brothers syndrome’, is a fear of throwing anything away. Imagine, being nutty enough to have something named after you.

OK, I'll Clean Up Next Week

Inside The Collyer Brownstone: OK, I'll Clean Up Next Week

And these brothers certainly achieved nutty enough. They over-achieved actually.

They were found dead in their New York City browstone in 1947. It took workers weeks to actually locate the bodies, after being forced to remove 103 tons of stuff from the house.

On April 8, 1947, workman … found the body of Langley Collyer just ten feet from where Homer died. His partially decomposed body was being eaten by rats. A suitcase and three huge bundles of newspapers had covered his body. Langley had been crawling through their newspaper tunnel to bring food to his paralyzed brother when one of his own booby traps fell down and crushed him. Homer, blind and paralyzed, starved to death several days later.

It’s one of those stories that makes you pause and reflect. In a way we are doing the same thing with bits and bytes.

The number of pictures I have of my ancestors? Less than 50, from all sides of the family as far back as you can go, we are talking Ellis Island and the Old Country. The number of (digital) pictures of our current family…thousands, Gigabytes. If you add the video there will someday be Terrabytes. Same story with documents.

So in a way we are the modern Virtual Disposophobia, and with the web nothing will be thrown away ever again. But at least the Virtual Stuff is neat.

Let’s finish with a teaching moment:

  • You can never be too thin or too rich.
  • You can never have too much computer memory.
  • You can never have too much storage space (sic).
  • Turns out you really CAN save too much stuff.
  • You really should NOT set booby traps.

It’s only a matter of time before Google figures out how to move real stuff into the cloud.

Now that will be good.



4 thoughts on “Virtually Collyer, As We Speak

  1. So it’s not that the Collyer Bros. had too much stuff — they just didn’t have enough storage space.

    Posted by Sal | August 28, 2009, 4:33 pm


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