Do you hoarde, or do you delete?
37,369. THAT’S THE NUMBER OF EMAILS Ithaca Post Editor Luke Fenchel had in his Gmail inbin the last time I peeked.
After recovering from the shock that it is even possible for an inbin to hold that many emails without making the entire Internet freeze up, I wondered, what do our inbins say about us?
I retain emails I’ve read because I’m afraid I might need them someday, whether for the email address or the details in the content. I feel responsible for tracking other people’s information. I hang onto things. Those of us who fear the delete button also tend to rely on wall calendars and sticky notes. We plan. We cling.
I envy those who can forget, whether a dentist appointment, an oil change or Mother’s Day. Those people can read an email, delete it and never think of it again. Are they Zen, or irresponsible?
To better understand the psychology that underlies people’s habits, I did a little research, and, to spice things up and increase my column’s SEO potential, I included some Really Famous People in my inquiries.
Side note: Really Famous People tend not to respond to media requests from lowly unknown writers like myself. Take Steve Jobs, for example. I know he’s busy, but he’s got an entire office dedicated to handling his media requests, and still, no one returned my call. Same with Ellen DeGeneres. I’ll bet both of their inbins are embarrassingly overflowing. Bastards.
I did hear back from Penn Jillette, the tech-savvy, larger and louder half of the magician duo Penn & Teller. (Thanks, Penn.) Penn wrote, “I always keep my inbox at zero. With very few exceptions, once I open an email, I do everything I have to do with that email, and move it to an archive. Touch everything once.” And “Poof!” the emails magically disappear.
Locally, I heard back from everyone I queried, even the native celebrities. Like Penn, Central New York promoter Dan Smalls reads and replies immediately, “even if it’s the same band begging for another impossible opening slot.” Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton’s assistants sort her 600+ daily emails as they come in. I had to reassure an insecure staff person at her office that an empty inbin was not a reflection of a lack of popularity, and suggested it was instead a statement about one’s anal retentive characteristics. She said they do it to keep the server from crashing.
A wise person once told me that clutter represents delayed decisions. If that’s the case, Mayor Carolyn Peterson and musicians Sim Redmond and Jennie Lowe Stearns are serious avoiders: each of them has thousands of emails saved.
As a result of my extensive and exhaustive research which included Really Famous People*, I started to imagine that our inbins might say something about both our individual personalities as well as our relationships with others. I came up with the following rating scale correlating our emails with our personal lives:
0-10 (Penn Jillette-0) Either you are extremely efficient and very, very lonely, or you can perform magic. You are an all-or-nothing guy when it comes to relationships. You don’t tolerate bullshit.
10-99 (Dan Smalls – 25; my dad – 43) You have a Zen attitude toward attachment. Let it go, dude, let it go. This philosophy has pissed off your significant other on more than one occasion when you have thrown out an old newspaper before he/she read it, or washed a mug out when there was still a sip of coffee in it.
100-499 (Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton – 230; me – 165) You try to find balance, and you succeed most of the time, though you can be a little clingy. If you want love, it’s waiting for you; you just have to make time for it. (Doesn’t this sound like a good place to be? That’s because I’m in this category.)
500-999 You try to find balance in your life, and you fail most of the time. I can say anything here because I don’t know anyone in this category.
1000+ (Mayor Carolyn Peterson – 3700; Jennie Lowe Stearns – 5417; Sim Redmond – 2502) You are a somewhat anxious person who worries about making the people you care about happy. One of those emails might contain something really, really important, so you better not delete any of them. If only you had the time to go through all these emails and sort them, which you don’t, so you just hang on tightly and worry. Red wine helps.
37,000+ (Luke Fenchel – 37,369) You need a therapist. Or an assistant. Or both.
*Ashton and Demi could not be reached for comment.