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17 May 2009

Going Through The Mail

TO has been accustomed to email as a primary means of communication for Quite Some Time. As such, it came as a shock when not one, but two, email providers experienced simultaneous failures. Malfunction of these networked nerve endings caused a stinging sensation, and motivated adoption of a new email environment. Messages from many years were located, imported, and consolidated. A contiguous corpus of personal history became viewable and manageable; thanks to IMAP, TO also gained the ability to access it from multiple and diverse clients. Musings ensued as a result.

As people have grown to send fewer letters on paper, the fact that email doesn't offer the same tangible kind of memento of a correspondent has sometimes been mourned. For better and worse, we now have just the words, not the handwriting or the touch of paper. No more boxes of enveloped letters to revisit, perhaps with intriguing stamps affixed. But, also, no more boxes of letters to store and lose, and it's much easier to search and find particular messages when represented in bits than when physically enveloped.

It's possible, and sometimes satisfying, to clean away undesired or superfluous items; announcements that past years' telephone bills had become available for payment, e.g., are unlikely to warrant renewed and focused attention. Offensive or annoying advertisements can be avenged with delete buttons, when they've managed to traverse the filtering gauntlet and reach the inbox grail in the first place. Within generous storage limits, though, the urgency of cleaning has diminished. Unread entries in mailboxes aren't nearly as disruptive as accumulating papers on a desk. Some of today's minutiae will become tomorrow's valued ephemera. Can we anticipate which ones?

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