Getting my email back

A couple of years ago I noticed that I actually wasn’t the owner of my email inbox. My email inbox owned me. I just archived the emails that it presented to me, from meaningless mailing lists, from old camera clubs, or irrelevant advertisements that started coming after some purchase or other. So I unsubscribed from these obviously useless emails.

But it wasn’t enough. A year or more later I noticed that I was still getting more than 10 irrelevant or uninteresting emails for every one that mattered to me. But some of these had sentimental value or some reason for keeping them coming.

  1. I had bought something from this company once, and I thought I might buy something else from them again some day.
  2. I agree with this cause.
  3. This mailing list at one time sent me some stuff that was useful, and I hope that it will do that again.
  4. I attended a lecture from these people once and hope that someday they will offer another one that I would like to attend.

The list goes on. One un-critically thought through excuse after another. They are easy to break. I’ll do these ones real quick.

  1. Refuted: I don’t need to be reminded daily. I have that thing I bought to remember. Or if I don’t remember, maybe it wasn’t that special after all. These emails aren’t going to make up for that.
  2. Refuted: Receiving an email, or a lot of emails, is not really that much of a commitment to a cause. Do something more impactful if you really care.
  3. Refuted: By the 3rd or 4th un-useful email, it’s ok to unsubscribe. There is a rule on the internet somewhere about that.
  4. Refuted: If there is another interesting lecture you’ll probably hear about it from some community you actively participate in. There are probably dozens and dozens of lectures that you don’t hear about and missing those has turned out ok so far.

I suspect that keeping all these emails was a reasoning breakdown at the intersection of a) free stuff, b) Gmail adding tools for managing more useless junk, and c) the mirage of Gmail’s archive and search features. “Just archive everything” is a trap in general. It’s been said that archiving is just throwing things away for the uncommitted. I am hardly ever able find something that I know is in my email with search. At least not without putting in some real effort.

Upon recognizing all this, I did an even more severe clean out, and I was left with some real breathing room. I think I got only one or two automated emails a week. It was great, so great that I subscribed to The Sample to find some better newsletters. But I think I’ve reached some new maximum amount of suffering midly useless emails again and I’ll probably unsubscribe from about half of those. At least those emails are ones I intentionally signed up for. I know who’s fault that is, and I can just as easily undo it.

Join me in unsubscribing from useless email!

J. Garo @garo