Email is eternal. Or close to it.

Mail blue
Image via Wikipedia

I know someone who changes their email address every few years (sometimes more often). He tends to use the email provided by his ISP, so every time he changes providers or moves, he has a new email address.

I think that this must make it really easy to wipe the slate of ones life every so often, and divest oneself of unwanted contacts.

I also think this must make it very hard to maintain any kind of consistent email history.

What? I’m not the only person who keeps old emails. I know I’m not the only one because a friend of mine was weirded out not too long ago by someone (other than me) being able to pull up and send over a particular email from untold years before.

Of course I’m not the only one. Over the years since I first opened my current email account – almost a decade now – they have continued to expand online mailbox server space to the point that if I actually wanted to keep all the spam, hoaxes, chain emails and advertisements that I receive, I totally could. There’s really just no need to clear things out, other than according to our own sense of “inbox housekeeping” – especially since I make good use of filters and folders and flags. (Oh my!)

OK, that can be pretty alarming, even to me. Not even thinking about the way that emails are stored on host servers long after we delete them… it’s a squidgy feeling to think that what we write is still “out there” – that in fact the stuff we put “on paper” might have a lesser shelf-life than the flotsam we toss out casually over email.

There’s untold minutia that I have no need to access, that’s only “saved” by inertia. I very rarely go back and access most of my old email, honestly. How often does one need to know about the details of a dinner party that took place in the spring of 2006? Closely approaching zero, I would guess, unless some kind of crime took place at or directly related to the party itself.

But I do go back to some of it. Every so often though – probably more for worse than for better, since there’s no way back to that window of time – I stroll digitally down memory lane. We are so out of touch now that it’s almost impossible to imagine, but there it is spelled out over hundreds of bits and bytes: once upon a time, we were friends.
If I didn’t have this proof, I would doubt my memory of it.

At the end of the day, “doubting my memory” is exactly why I have saved and flagged the majority of the emails I have. I can’t tell you how many times it has come in handy to at least be able to look back at the confirming email from a vendor to see what I used for a login ID. Too many sites, too many combinations… some reference material is handy.

Even beyond that, though…. I find it helpful to save the compliments, the pep talks, the encouraging words. All the things that don’t register in long-term memory for me… that sometimes don’t get recorded at all. In print, at least they stay.
I don’t remember now what kind words that person said to me on that phone call that time – the quicksand of my broken memory swallowed it even as it was still coming out of their mouth (though had they been criticizing I’m sure I would have remembered it forever). But I can still know what positive things this person wrote me the day before I started my “new” job, back in 2005.
And on the days when I need that pep talk again, there it is, easily retrieved. Thank God for email.