Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

File? What is a folder? New generations no longer organize their files: the search engine finds everything

If you have a desk like the one in the photo, you may be one of those who do not usually organize your files in different folders. Before, users put order in chaos thanks to that concept, but it seems that new generations pass from that philosophy: they don’t need the folders because they have Windows Search and Spotlight to find everything.

It is at least what emerges from the statements of several teachers who are realizing that their students often do not use folders to organize everything. Windows, macOS (and Linux) search engines solve the ballot.

File? What is a folder?

As noted in The Verge, the same thing happened to Catherine Garland, an astrophysicist who in 2017 was teaching an engineering course. After asking her students to do an exercise on the computer, several called her with a question: the program could not find the files it needed.

The teacher asked those students where they had saved the project file and most of them answered in the same way. “What are you talking about”?. Not only did they not know where they had saved that file: they did not understand the question.

The same was experienced by other teachers who discovered that the students did not understand the concept of a file or a folder because, simply, they did not use them as such. They kept those files in the default folders assigned by the application they used, and they didn’t need to think about it.

Why? Because their computer was already doing it for them. It doesn’t matter if they had hundreds of icons on the desktop or files of all kinds scattered through confusing and unintuitive folders, because the Windows or macOS search engine took care of everything. It was enough that they knew the name of the file for Windows Search or Spotlight on macOS to locate the document they wanted to access.

It turns out that search engines do do the job (but even putting something on your part doesn’t hurt)

For someone who, like me, has a fairly strict file and folder regime — surely that is the case for many of our readers as well—, leaving the file with which I work anywhere worries me.

Win11 Search
Win11 Search

It’s like losing control over the way you work and leaving everything in the middle. You think of your home and leaving anything out there And you’re probably worrying about having to find your keys or, I don’t know, your socks.

Windows 11 First Impressions: Great Visual Changes for Windows That Will Make You Feel Right at Home

But of course, at home we do not have a Windows Search or a Spotlight (in Linux there are many alternatives) that does the job. And it turns out these tools do it really well: I myself have checked the last hours by testing the Windows 11 search engine and entering search terms that, indeed, resulted in the files I was looking for.

It does so at least if one looks in the classic folders where files are usually stored on the system partition (in Windows, “C:”). For the indexing to be complete one has to go to “Settings -> Privacy and Security -> Searching in Windows” and there select the “Enhanced” option to broaden the search to all drives and their folders.

This option can have an impact on the battery if you use a laptop, but if you activate it effectively those results will be extended to all the local partitions of your system. It is even possible to add network locations (such as NAS) to have them also indexed. In Windows 10 we have been talking for a long time about the so-called ‘Immersive Search’, which went a little further when it came to behaving like the macOS Spotlight that has always been a benchmark in this type of function.

Generational change in sight

It is possible that all this is certainly a clear indication of a generational change in the way we 40s (and, I suppose, 30s) understood computers and the way new generations understand it.


Raise your hand who frequently uses the Files file explorer on their iPad.

As Saavik Ford, professor of astronomy at the Borough of Manhattan Community College said, “I grew up when you had to have a file and save it: you had to know where it was. There was no search function.” But among the students, “there is no such conception that there is a place where the files live. They just look for it and there they have it“.

The Windows 11 challenge to “make you feel at home” and completely renew (Clear X # 147)

It certainly happens with mobile devices: we rely on applications to take care of our files, and only recently did iOS and iPadOS add a file explorer to use that probably the new generations do not use much because hey, they already have the search engine on their iPhone or iPad.

Some of the teachers who had these problems when talking about files and folders have started to work in that direction: it is fine to use the search engine, but at the beginning of their courses give some basic notions of what is the basic directory structure and what is a file and a folder.

The idea is not very intuitive for many students, but taking into account that the concept is still a fundamental part of the operating systems that we handle every day (although on mobile phones, we insist, that concept remains in the background), it seems something important to remind new generations.

For my part, I am clear that (at least for the moment) I will continue to organize my music or my personal photos with folders. The search engine works great, yes, but I’m not ready to give up the old habits. Argh.

Imagen | Tim Gouw