Google has had a hand in killing off a long list of products — encyclopedias, maps, newspapers — and it may be time to add another casualty to the list.
Beginning in 2017, STEM professors started noticing a recurring trend: new students didn’t know how to use folders.
Folders are part of a bigger mental model…
… called directory structure — the hierarchical system where files are saved in folders and subfolders in an intuitive way.
- For example: a new file might be saved in a “Documents” folder, that lives in a “Desktop” folder, which lives in a folder called “This PC.”
Professors say students who grew up with Google are eschewing this method entirely in favor of a different mental model called “laundry basket” structure.
With this “system,” users save all files in one place (like items in a laundry basket), then use search to find a file on demand when needed — which can result in desktops that look like this:
Thanks to Google, search is built into everything now…
… including computers, mobile phones, and apps — which begs the question: are folders even necessary anymore?
Professors in STEM fields argue that in some cases they are.
- For instance, computer programming, which often requires programmers to reference an exact location for a file.
As a result, many STEM professors are doing double duty, teaching directory structure alongside their field of expertise.
But it may just be a stopgap
Even the professors who teach directory structure believe it’s on the way out, anticipating that Gen Z will build their own tools without the need for folders — and teach that to future generations.
Even if that’s the case, there’s still no excuse for a desktop that messy.