This is an open letter, pointedly not posted to anyone’s mailbox, written in celebration of minimizing the amount of e-mail occupying inboxes, to-do-lists and minds. (It is, some may note, not the first time I’ve written on this subject.)
This post is also a letter of apology to all those who have ever received a message from me they could have done without—especially, in those pre-Facebook days, one distributed to dozens and containing pretentious drivel (“dispatch” I would have called it) or an opinion or link I failed not to share.
It is also a plea that we all take our chatting, inviting, RSVP-ing and notificating and park it along with the rest of its ilk on Facebook, where at least it consumes time we’re voluntarily committing to waste (and where messages are stored not as e-mails but in a chat-style matrix that is basically already an archive).
I am, of course, speaking for that fringe set of e-mailers whose appreciation of a sorted inbox rivals our love of an icon-free desktop background, but know that we are a righteous pack, and we work hard to prove why things should be done our way. Also—whether you are one of us or you aren’t—please reflect upon the way every incoming message really does come at a tiny cost to your capital of time, and at a less tiny cost to your net capacity for concentration. After all, one has to assess an e-mail’s potential for being important, and then one may also need to decide whether a reply is warranted, and, if so, whether it is one to write instantly or to revisit later, and whom, if anyone, to include as CC and BCC recipients of that message. Finally, the decision whether to delete or leave or archive a message is yet another claim on one’s time.
Thus, I enclose a yelp of fury for each message that passes my inbox without containing (administrative or personal) information or confirmation that is actually necessary for me to see. That’s right, mailing list administrators who added my e-mail without my explicit consent, and senders of invitations to art shows on other continents, and confirmers of the “yes, I’ll be there” variety whenever you’re not actually replying to me. How I wish you had left me off the recipient list altogether!
I realize I’m suggesting the impossible, so let me suggest instead a reduction of the intolerable. Let’s just now and then try leaving a byte unsent.
To add value to plea and apology, here’s a handy apropos formulation for tacking on to official messages, below the signature, provided of course one is into this sort of base-covering pedantry:
Thank you for respecting the privacy of sender’s e-mail address.
Use for topic-related reply only. Do not add to database or mailing list.
It took me hours to perfect the wording, but in a few decades I think it might wind up saving me even more hours in wasted time! (It is also proof of one’s lack of consent to any ensuing spam, which may one day win someone millions in a lawsuit, though possibly a feat like that would first cost millions in time.)