The Minimalist’s Guide To Email
It finally happened. I woke up this morning, flicked open my email, and had nothing waiting for me. Not a spam, not a newsletter, not even a notification for a social media service I was about to open and check anyway. Nada, nix, zippo.
That there wasn’t any personal correspondence either could be construed as negative if we really think about it, but the delight of not getting anything else had tended to make this morning’s proverbial glass very much on the half-full side.
Many of you will be sitting there looking at your own sparkling inboxes, shrugging: “Big deal…”, so allow me to put things into perspective: I’m not speaking of some spangly new Gmail account, practically a virgin, untouched by the evils of the world. No, in that same analogy, my email accounts are a bunch of filthy old whores. The oldest alias goes back fifteen years, slapped around the worst kinds of sites, serving me through my brief stint working for an adult site network, used as a login for every dodgy piracy site I’ve ever frequented, brazenly left hanging on robot-crawled blogs, review sites and social networks, and opting-in (knowingly or otherwise) to half a billion different newsletters. Checking my email had become something I did several times a day which essentially revolved around skimming and deleting eighty percent of what came in; boring, really.
For years, I’ve considered ditching everything and starting again, the amount of crap that flies into my inbox, deleted unread, just getting stupid. But no, that’d be letting the bastards win. And besides knowing the mess is ultimately my responsibility, I’m quite attached to the aliases in question. My attitudes in 2013 regarding media/news consumption are pretty-well a unified front: I much prefer I do be on-demand now, or at the very least, aggregated by services such as Google Reader (for news, blogs etc), Netflix & AppleTV for video etc. and keep a channel such as email open exclusively for human (or business) contact. Things like the trusty ol’ newsletter or direct marketing seems like “the old way”, and I’m just not down with it anymore. If their content is that interesting, it’ll be on their blog/Twitter/Facebook, and I’ll see it there.
In early November, as I was starting to clean house in preparation for a long-winded overseas move, I started work on my unruly inbox. The plan was simple: anything that came in which I wasn’t interested in (or which I might have been interested in but now skim then trash every time) I take thirty seconds and unsubscribe from. If there’s no unsubscribe option visible, I find an email on the website and write to it. If it’s spam, I make sure it’s been flagged as such with my mail server’s internal recognition systems. Every major (computer, not phone) email check, I have to do the same, cold, harsh and disciplined.
And guess what: it worked.
It’s taken a couple of months, but today, for the first time, I’ve woken up to zero. The morning tally has been gradually dwindling, especially during the last couple of weeks, and while I expect there’s still going to be more junk in there tomorrow, the first signs of nothingness are encouraging.
With the heavy-hitters online having already shifted away from direct mailings for most things – favouring device- or site-based notifications, and usually giving us users the chance at disabling ALL email contact from them – I’m hoping this is the dawning of a new age. Aggregation has gotten too good, and even if that contributes to the feeling of information overload many of us feel and complain about, at least we can control when and how we choose to view the aggregators. Email newsletters have long since started to feel like getting a cold-call on your landline at dinnertime; tired, irritating and irrelevant.
Time for a Do Not Call on your email too, folks. Take a look at yours: if it’s anything like mine was, give the unsubscribe route a try. One thing you’ll find is how much of your direct human correspondence has shifted to short-form and social media. I used to love writing a good, long letter – snail mail even. I’m totally down with progress, and accept that, for most people, email has become irrelevant, social media taking the full weight of their communications. But now, with this empty, glowing inbox? I’m bringing long-form back… provided I can few people left out there who scoff and “TLDR” and happy to scrape below the Likes and headlines.