The Great Divide looms large in American legend and folklore. From Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, this imaginary line traces the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in North America southward into Mexico, through the isthmus of Panama, then on through the heights of the Andes to Terrra del Fuego, at the extreme end of South America. The line represents the interplay of geography and gravity. Rain falling to the west of the line runs to the Pacific Ocean. Rain falling to the east flows toward the Atlantic.
There’s a Great Divide on your computer, too. It draws the information you keep in two different directions. To one side is the information in your email, and to the other the information in your files. Crossing the boundary between these two worlds is a lot like working against gravity. It requires effort and awkward compromises.
Like email attachments.
If I had to pick the one feature in our shared information landscape that causes the most difficulty, it’s this digital Great Divide — The split between files and email.
We have to go back in time to imagine an era before there was a split. Before the digital age, most of the information used by business was stored on paper. Paper was the primary medium for all transactions, contracts, agreements, and formal communications. If you wanted to collect all the information about a project together in one place, you could bundle up the associated paper and transport it as a single unit.
Doing so today, after the split that created the Great Divide, is much more difficult.
The very first thing any information management consultant will tell you is to start storing your email and files together in an integrated system. At the enterprise level, you have a wealth of options for doing so: document management systems, records management systems, enterprise content management systems and a whole host of narrower solutions aimed at particular job functions. All of which primarily exist to do one thing: to keep related information together. To bridge the gap between files and email.
But where’s the system that does this on the individual level? What if you, personally, wanted to have a complete picture of your information landscape, without having to flip back and forth between email and files?
What would that system look like? What new horizons would open up if you had one?