BBC News: Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive

By Matthew Danzico, BBC News, Washington, 8/16/10

Chris Yurista, a Washington, DC resident who lives out of a backpack, claims digital technology has replaced the need for his home and his possessions

Many have begun trading in CD, DVD, and book collections for digital music, movies, and e-books. But this trend in digital technology is now influencing some to get rid of nearly all of their physical possessions – from photographs to furniture to homes altogether.

Let’s face it – digital files, applications and web services are replacing the need for many of the physical goods that pepper our homes, crowd our desks and fill our closets.

From online photo albums to virtual filing cabinets to digital musical instruments, hi-tech replacements are becoming ubiquitous.

But as goods continue to make the leap from the bookshelf to the hard drive, some individuals are taking the opportunity to radically change their lifestyles.

’21st-Century minimalist’

Mr Sutton sold or gave away most of his assets, apart from his iPad, Kindle, laptop and a few other items

Meet Kelly Sutton, a spiky-haired 22-year-old software engineer with thick-rimmed glasses and an empty apartment in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood – a hotbed for New York’s young, early adopters of new technology.

Mr Sutton is the founder of CultofLess.com, a website which has helped him sell or give away his possessions – apart from his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a “few” articles of clothing and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.

This 21st-Century minimalist says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.

“I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.

The tech-savvy Los Angeles “transplant” credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.

“I think the shift to all digital formats in all methods and forms of media consumption is inevitable and coming very quickly,” said Mr Sutton.

And Mr Sutton may be right.

Consumer electronic book sales tripled between 2008 and 2009, while the growth of physical book sales slowed, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Meanwhile, compact disc sales have declined by roughly 50% from their 2005 levels worldwide, while global revenue from digital music has nearly quadrupled in the same period, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Virtual homelessness

Mr Yurista feels his digital possessions can now live on indefinitely with little maintenance

Chris Yurista, a DJ from Washington, DC, cites this trend in digital music as one reason he was able to hand over the keys to his basement apartment over a year ago.

“It’s always nice to have a personal sense of home, but that aside – the internet has replaced my need for an address,” the 27-year-old said.

Since boxing up his physical possessions and getting rid of his home, Mr Yurista has taken to the streets with a backpack full of designer clothing, a laptop, an external hard drive, a small piano keyboard and a bicycle – an armful of goods that totals over $3,000 (£1,890) in value.

The American University graduate, who spends much of his time basking in the glow emanating from his Macbook, earns a significant income at his full-time job as a travel agent and believes his new life on the digital grid is less cluttered than his old life on the physical one.

“I don’t feel a void living the way I’m living because I’ve figured out a way to use digital technology to my advantage,” Mr Yurista explained.

Mr Yurista feels by digitising his life, he no longer has to worry about dusting, organising and cleaning his possessions. And he says his new intangible goods can continue to live on indefinitely with little maintenance.

“Things like records snap and wear down over time. It’s upsetting. MP3s don’t,” he said.

The DJ has now replaced his bed with friends’ couches, paper bills with online banking, and a record collection containing nearly 2,000 albums with an external hard drive with DJ software and nearly 13,000 MP3s.

But Mr Yurista is not the only digital vagabond.

Joshua Klein, a New York City-based technology innovation consultant, also set out on the road with his hard drive.

He and his wife digitised their possessions, got rid of two-thirds of what they owned and headed to the streets of New York for nine months with their laptops.

But Mr Klein and Mr Yurista both admit there are risks involved.

Mr Klein says the lifestyle can become loathsome because “you never know where you will sleep”. And Mr Yurista says he frequently worries he may lose his new digital life to a hard drive crash or downed server.

“You have to really make sure you have back-ups of your digital goods everywhere,” he said.

Data crisis counsellor

Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive,” at BBC News.