2018-11-05 Email Archives Are Not Archives

People have been linking my old essay on Record Keeping. That reminded me of email. I got into a conversation with @zladuric, @jamie, and @ckeen. Thank you all.

I am trying a new thing: deleting mail that I won’t answer or that I answered. No archiving. By now mail has become so unimportant, this seems feasible again. I will archive receipts and bills and stuff. But perhaps things that aren’t as important as letters from friends and family should be treated as such. Ephemeral messages.

What I am starting to hate is that the default mail app on my iOS devices makes it hard to delete and simple to archive mail, leading me to the Google trough where the mail donkey gets fed its mail every single day. It grows fat and I get no benefit from it. So now I’m starting to get stubborn and questioning the tools and services I use. Hah! Much too late, of course. In 2016 I downloaded all my mail and deleted the archived mail from the server. Time to do it again?

I have gigabytes of mail archives from days gone by and I’m never ever looking anything up in it. I hardly look at pictures in my photo albums, either. Nor do I read my old journals. So who is it for? Nobody, as far as I can tell. It just sits there, growing.

I think the email archive lacks physicality, so no random browsing, walking past interesting email spines, leafing through old paper, looking at cool email covers and reminiscing. No serendipity. No sitting on the loo, looking for a thing to read and finding those old love letters of yore. Nope. Email archives are just there. Somewhere. Somewhere we cannot go. Unseen and forgotten, like stories from before the war.

Now you can be a digital messy, too! Hoarding all the mails, copying all the PDFs, keeping all the documents. One day you will read it. After the apocalypse, when everybody stops creating more and more of the stuff, you will have the treasure trove of troves, the digital arch of archives. You will restart civilization! 🤩

Seriously, now. Your partner could find the good parts of your email archive and read it when you’re gone? That’d be an interesting use, at least. If you curate your email, then it’s a true archive, not a black hole of gaping memories.

XKCD says it best:

Old Files

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