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The archaeology of email

Some people are all about Inbox Zero. Not me.

A few years ago, when I was planning a move from Sydney to Melbourne, I came across an old computer. Fired it up and saw a younger version of myself, in a long-lost ISP-specific email account, excitedly agreeing to the champion rate of A$50 per 200 to 300-word article.

Bless that little sucker, I thought, remembering what it felt like to be leaving the confines of a call centre to be paid for writing. What a dream.

Now, of course, I sometimes get almost double that rate. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

Gmail gives a generous allowance of 15GB, and as of this morning, I was something like 96% deep into that unthinkable amount of space for emails. Even if you factor in attachments and images, it’s still a ridiculous amount of correspondence to have piled up.

So I’ve spent today excavating, fighting my hoarder’s urge to Smaug everything and instead giving it the DELETE, DELETE, DELETE treatment.

The first ones are easy – searching something like ‘ThinkGeek Overlords’ or ‘MEAA’ and wholesale deleting all the quasi-spam I never read. Then I hit upon searching for ‘unread’, and made another big dent in the pile.

Before long, I was dismissing old invitations to film screenings, opportunities to save money on interstate accommodation and long-forgotten Kickstarter updates apologising for lateness of delivery.

But along the way, it’s been a real journey of self-discovery.

Projects that never got off the ground, projects where the team disbanded immediately afterwards never to reform, friendly banter between me and put-upon in-house creatives complaining about clients, the endlessly recycled lame jokes I put in subject lines, the back’n’forth arguments on mailing lists dedicated to niche hobbies… well, like I said, there were more than 13,000 emails when I started.

Now, your Inbox Zero crew would say I’ve wasted an entire day reading old emails when I could have done something more productive. To them, I gesture at the now-only-80%-full Gmail account before me, and the long list of old collaborators I’ll be dragging down memory lane with me over the next few weeks.

Surely, it’s time to reassemble the teams responsible for some Optus training videos that never got past casting, medium-lived website What’s On Comedy and “the horrific break-up of 2008”. Some of them might even have a freelance budget!

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