Digital Packrat

As I pulled some old “archived” mail out of backup and dumped it back into my main profile in Thunderbird (thinking “what the hell, I have plenty of disk space”), I realized how insane it’s getting, the amount of email that I’m collecting (and I’m sure plenty of you are, too).

I have archives back to 2002, and I’d have all my mail clear back to 1998 if it hadn’t been for a few unfortunate accidents shortly after I moved to Bozeville.  All together at this point, we’re talking about roughly 16,500 messages.  That’s really not even that many in 6-plus years.

But the thing I got to thinking about is, “what am I DOING with all this stuff?”  Is it just a mental barrier to overcome, that even if I never look at those messages again, they’re not really taking up any more physical space in my life?  After all, harddrives are only getting bigger, and even as it is, that T-bird profile is just barely over a gigabyte.  So the space issue really shouldn’t bother me.

Is it the organization, then?  I used to try to file everything really carefully in folders, but the advances in search within my client (and on the Googles, for that matter) have really made organization a moot point.  I still keep a few folders around for things that definitely need their own distinct space but might not have common qualities or attributes (thereby, making “searching” them a more difficult proposition), but my single largest folder is the general archive, called “_DONE”.  This is where mail goes when I have read it, replied to it or taken other action as needed, and it’s OK to be moved out of the inbox.  My point is, it’s not like it’s going to be easy for me to find something in there.  I could do a search on that folder if I knew what it was I was looking for, but…

I guess it’s the relative uselessness of all the mail that is bothering me here.  I look at that “_DONE” folder and think, what purpose is that giant pile serving? It seems like there should be some other function that I can leverage from a store of data like that.  Seems there should be something about that much information that should make my life easier.

I guess I got a blog post out of it, but that’s not saying much.

I come back to the idea that it’s a mental hurdle to overcome– I have been trained to know that keeping a lot of junk around that you don’t need is bad; that a person needs to sort through that stuff and get rid of it if it’s not useful anymore.  Furthermore, as far as email specifically is concerned, for about the first 10 years that we had it, unless you were POP’ing into your account and keeping messages on your own computer (i.e., you had webmail only), you HAD to get rid of mail.  It was a daily/weekly/constant battle.  Now our space is virtually unlimited, and as more and more of our information moves into a digital space, maybe that sort of thinking just isn’t relevant.

What are you doing with all your mail?  Are you still throwing any of it away?  Does it all just sit in your ever-expanding inbox, or do you do something else with it?

2 thoughts on “Digital Packrat”

  1. I wonder if email messages will be something that future generations look back on the way that we look back on antique photographs and hand written letters to gain a sense of who their ancestors were.

  2. Seriously, just dump it. Not because hording junk is bad (although it is…something I too am guilty of), but because it means letting go. The less attachments you have to things the more free you are. Get your Zen on.

    Plus you’re a towel.

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