I have 16,252 messages in my inbox. Just the thought makes most people come unglued. I’ve never felt compelled to clean out my email. In fact, once I left the workforce in the early 2000’s, and was no longer tethered to a desk, and a computer, I took a hiatus from email.
Initially I was in email avoidance. I associated email with the physiological fight-or-flight response of caveman days. I just couldn’t shake the years of pulsating-vein-popping-up-in-my-forehead; put me in a rubber room kind of stress, generated from my inbox.
I never knew what was lurking. Bombardments of high priority emails from all directions; “You need to commission some market research on the website we are launching on Tuesday. We realize we forgot to do market research and our VP asked about it five minutes ago. Whatever you do, make sure it backs up the theme, direction and content we have developed.” Or, “We decided our group should have a presence at the trade show in Atlanta. It’s in four days. You need to beg the event planners for a space, get our booth together, produce a video (this was the 90’s), and create some genius marketing brochure to distribute. You’re flight arrangements have been made. Hopefully you can find a hotel.
Part of my initial reticence about personal email, was that it lacked the code of conduct embraced by companies. Before personal email was commonplace, it wasn’t unusual to end up on an endless string of “reply all” single word responses (“yes” or “no”). These could go on for weeks. There were also the people that used email for formal letter writing, with many paragraphs of superfluous banter.
The classic was the email “chain letter”. You remember those don’t you? “Please fill out this email questionnaire with only the most positive (yet truthful) answers, and forward to twenty people. If you do, you will have good luck, spirituality, good karma, and designer clothes for the rest of your life. If you break the chain, bad luck will befall you. You might lose your job, and home, contract leprosy, and get run over at a freeway onramp while you are begging for dollars.”
Eventually I recovered from PTSD from my work life. My inbox no longer expelled menacing, stressful messages. It became indispensable. Once I got an iPhone, it was easier to manage, although I much prefer the brevity of text. So why do I still have 16k emails in my inbox? When it comes down to it, I’m a digital hoarder…