I don’t know where to begin thanking all the people I should thank at this time of year so I will just throw a dart into the pile and choose some of the people who have sent me kind, informative, encouraging, and useful E-mails all these many years.
No, I am not going to thank all the people who have sent me those aforementioned supportive E-mails. Some of those senders have received thanks already, tucked into the reply I sent to their E-mail. At this time I just want to send a special thanks to those who E-mailed me and then sat around patiently and never heard a single word back in return.
There’s a lot of people I need to thank. As some of you know, I have a bit of a clutter problem. While I spend inordinate amounts of time fighting to keep clutter out of this newspaper, I give up time that I might otherwise spend fighting clutter. My physical desk is overloaded with paper. My virtual computer desktop is equally bad (129 icons sprawled across my 21-inch screen).
And then my E-mail inbox: As of a few days ago 43,301 items were sitting in my inbox, dating back to February, 2006. Of them 5,513 of them were unread. My folder of deleted items (but, of course never really deleted, as anyone in the CIA should be able to tell you) contained 52,472 items. Of them 13,869 were unread.
So I will begin by thanking my unacknowledged correspondents for their understanding. And surely they will understand. As I write this I have 75 E-mails from today sitting in my inbox. I have already deleted 58 of them. (That doesn’t include the number of E-mails automatically filtered by my mail server’s automatic system: 67.) Now, if I somehow find time to delete another 55 of them or so (and if through some miracle no more E-mails arrive) I will then only have 20 E-mails remaining in my system. But 20 lingering E-mails per day, times 365 days in a year, times six years puts you at around 43,000 E-mails. Like a lot of other excesses it begins with a slight but slippery slope.
Knowing that, a few days ago I started deleting some E-mails. I’ve done this before, of course, but this time I vowed to stick to it until the number in the inbox began to noticeably recede. Each page in my inbox holds 100 E-mails, so I went back to the first full page in the queue — it held E-mails from early 2006, and arbitrarily selected all 100 E-mails on the page and hit delete. Whack. A hundred E-mails gone, 43,201 E-mails to go.
I did that five or six times and began to feel pretty good about winning this war against clutter. Then I noticed one strange thing.
Every time I deleted the batch of 100, there was one sole E-mail remaining on the last page. Rather than take the time to delete just that one, I scrolled up to the next to last page and found another set of 100. Then I would delete again. Over and over, but each time with the same remaining E-mail at the end. It was the oldest E-mail in the queue.
I started to delete it, figuring it would increase my efficiency. But then the old hoarder’s voice clicked in. Maybe it’s something interesting. Maybe I should open it first. You never know. The odd E-mail out lingered there as follows:
From: Edward H Tenner
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 14:41:13
Subject: Einstein, futurism, technology, culture
Tenner! My addictive hoarder’s personality sensed a rush of satisfaction. The E-mail that I had saved the longest came from the Princeton-based author and lecturer, whose works include “Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.” This E-mail contained an article Tenner had written in the winter, 2006, issue of the Wilson Quarterly.
I abandoned my deletion exercise to read Tenner’s piece. In classic Tenner-ian fashion, he addressed “certain dilemmas of contemporary thinking about the future” and managed to enliven it with — among many other examples — the style of furniture in Einstein’s Mercer Street house.
Tenner’s accompanying note said simply: “Hi Rich, Hope you can use this some day. Ed.”
To Tenner, I say “thank you very much. I could use it and I have.” And to the rest of you, I also say thanks — thanks for reading. If you have any comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for those messages, I should say right now, “thanks in advance.”