eMail as (lazy) memoir

I mentioned on Facebook the other day that I had nearly 4,000 emails in my Sent folder that I needed to clean out — a chore I detest and obviously hadn’t done in a long time. I spent all day today, many hours of my last day off, going through and deleting around 3,200 of them, so far. Three thousand two hundred interactions with clients, colleagues, friends, family wiped away one by one.

It made me wonder how these interactions would have happened in the olden days — like 25 years ago. We didn’t use email then (did it even exist?). When colleagues and I needed to exchange information, we talked to each other, or called, or left notes on each other’s desks. We didn’t have voicemail; if you called someone who wasn’t at their desk, you called back later or left a message with an actual person. We all had little, check-the-box “While you were out” pads that made it easy to communicate — let someone else know that someone had come by to see them or that they had had a phone call from X about Y. We relied a lot on our memories of what was said in conversation or notes that we, you know, wrote by hand — no CYA email trail in those days.

And friends, family? We didn’t have instant access to share a funny picture or interesting article — except by fax, and no one did that. We talked by phone (but not when we were anywhere but at home or work, where the phone was) or sent cards and letters. Sharing a picture was a big deal — you had to send your only print from the roll you had to get developed or have copies made. A lot of people sent their film away by mail for processing because it was cheaper. You’d wait anxiously to see how the pictures turned out. A lot of them didn’t turn out so well — you might look silly, eyes closed or mouth open or hair askew, and you’d have to rip it up or hope no one would show anyone. If a card or letter someone sent you made you LOL, you might call them to say that, but more likely you’d have to write them back — and an LOL several days later just isn’t the same.

It’s a wonder we could function at all. What with having to walk uphill both ways to work in blizzards and all, too.

It’s also weird to think that what in days of yore would have been simple, easily forgotten conversations or phone calls or notes are today all countable and “rememberable.” Four thousand interactions over the course of several years recallable in an instant.

Imagine if you never deleted any. Ever. If all the email exchanges you ever had were there for the perusing. Of course, not the boring work ones you’d never want to see again. But the others — the chats with friends, the shared jokes and memes, the advice given and received. A little like a living journal. In my case, I had a lot of emails pertaining to my mom’s care, illness, and death. About our work to clean out the house, settle the estate, sell the house. I have some giving or getting advice from friends. I even have a few about 9/11 — written on or in the days following the massacre. Some of them, though painful to remember, I still couldn’t delete. Not yet; maybe not ever.

I don’t plan to let my emails pile up that high ever again. Not that many years ago, I was vigilant about keeping my Inbox and Sent mail to 400 emails each. That’s probably not feasible anymore given all the projects I need to track over time. But I won’t let it reach 10x that number again. It may be an easy way to document slices of life — an unconscious journal — but I don’t think it’s worth a day of my current life to relive them.

What you need to know about the past is that
no matter what has happened, it has all worked together
to bring you to this very moment. And this is the moment you can
choose to make everything new. Right now.

~ Author Unknown

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