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E-mail boxes and memory lane

By Jean-Claude Elias - Oct 30,2014 - Last updated at Oct 30,2014

There is today one more way to stroll down memory lane to go reminiscing. We used to look at family photo albums we would store on a bookshelf, to read again letters received before 1990 kept in those nice envelopes with stamps on them, or perhaps we would watch old classic movies, or listen to songs from the sixties, etc. There’s now a better or at least a newer way to nostalgia and it’s thanks to IT. Just roll up your sleeves and go for a massive exploration of your e-mail box.

If a minority of us does a periodical clean-up of their mailbox, keeping it tidy and up to date, the vast majority doesn’t. I’d say that more than 90 per cent of the population leaves messages stored in the system for years. I see around me relatives, friends and colleagues with mailboxes holding 10,000 to 20,000 messages, the oldest dating back 10 years or even longer.

Never mind all the negative aspects, if any, of such massive pileup of digital data. They tell you to keep the place tidy and neat, but virtually all e-mail software applications today let you easily sort and retrieve messages in a snap, amongst tens of thousands. Moreover, as far as storage is concerned, and with dirt-cheap digital real estate, you can afford to keep 100,000 e-mails for 100 years if you like, without making your system wince at all. Cloud storage is now offered with unlimited storage capacity, for no or very little money, by most providers.

Besides, and notwithstanding pragmatic reasons, to clean up or not to clean up one’s workplace is a matter of personal attitude and tendency. Some like to keep their desk tidy and cannot work at all if it is not, while others enjoy working with loads of papers, files and various objects scattered on theirs. Dealing with a mailbox follows the same philosophy.

So if storage, money, messages retrieval and filing are not an issue, why then should you deprive yourself from keeping e-mail messages forever? Not to mention that cleaning up a mailbox is often seen as a rather tedious task. That is unless you start looking at the operation as a way to visit sweet memories, perhaps making a clear distinction between drastic clean-up and non-destructive exploration, noting that both will let you enjoy travelling in the past.

With the fast pace of modern life, retrieving and reading e-mails from only a few years ago reminds you how much has changed since. This is particularly true if your mailbox holds a combination or personal and business correspondence. Very few things remain valid after only a few years. Colleagues leave and change their work, children grow up, old e-mail addresses stop being valid and friends move to other countries. Reading e-mails from “the past” is a sure way to nostalgia.

Another interesting point of comparison is the writing style. It is amazing how much e-mail writing has evolved with time, and you can see it before your very eyes if you read an old e-mail and compare it with a recent one. It is now very concise, short and even more familiar. Even if mobile phone SMS jargon like OMG, GTG, BTW and LOL has never really been a trend in the world of e-mailing, there is a clear and constant evolution towards more abbreviation and speed. The comparison is guaranteed to raise a smile.

At the risk of exaggerating I would say that reading e-mails from yesteryears is comparable to archaeological digging for artefacts. I was reading a price quotation I had received from a computer supplier eight years ago that was still in my archived inbox. The extremely outdated technical characteristics made me laugh out loud (that’s a LOL). Even the price was a laughing matter, compared with today’s prices.

So if someone tells you that you should not leave all these messages piled up in your mailbox for years and years, that it is not good practice, and that you should do some serious clean-up every now and then, tell them that you see your mailbox as a precious source for memories.

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