Using Twitter to understand where data goes when it’s deleted

The other day when I tried to move the audio book, “11-22-63” to my iPhone, there wasn’t enough space for it. As I went through deleting other books to make room, a nagging old question surfaced and wouldn’t go away. Where does data go when you delete it?

Knowing about the Law of Conservation of Energy, I couldn’t wrap my brain around digital storage. I’m a visual learner and since data can’t be seen, not in the physical sense like trash in a garbage can, I’ve always been confused by the sound of emptying my digital trash can.

Just now it hit me. The perfect way to see it all in my brain! I love those moments, when a concept just clicks.

If data is all ones and zeros combined in just the right way to make a sound file play, or a text document saved, then using Twitter to explain this makes perfect and complete sense.

Say my hard drive is a tweet. I have one hundred and forty characters to use to send a tweet. Therefore, one one one zero zero one zero one zero one one one zero zero one one one zero zero one one zero zero one zero one one zero zero zero zero fills up my character limit. Spaces count, and I know binary isn’t the numbers spelled out, but that would have been a lot of numbers to get my one hundred forty character limit.

one one one zero zero one zero one zero one one one zero zero one one one zero zero one one zero zero one zero one one zero zero zero zero fills the hard drive. one one one zero zero one zero one zero one one one zero zero one one one zero zero leaves me some space, some characters left in the tweet. How did I get that space? I deleted ones and zeros. Those ones and zeros are what made up the audio book I deleted from the iPhone. So nothing actually disappears, the code just does. It’s like when you’re four characters over so you go change the word “two” to the number 2 and use the & symbol for the word “and” to make room. It’s just deleted, like characters from a tweet. I totally get it now!

If I wipe the hard drive, I erase the tweet completely. Poof! Ah, thanks Twitter. Never knew I’d use Twitter to explain this forever nagging question!

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