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bars of gold

Deleting emails – trash, treasure, or amnesia?

For some mysterious reason, a lot of people appear to be positively obsessed with deleting emails. The other day we referred one of our correspondents to a discussion which took place a couple of months earlier. Astonishingly, their reply was: “I don´t keep emails that far back“. Why???bars of gold

FWIW, our basic rule is to keep all non-spam emails, because any email can turn out to be useful for future reference (or indeed even used as “evidence”) at any point in time. For this reason, we regard our very comprehensive email archive (dating back to the 1990s) as an invaluable resource. Additionally, the process of regularly deciding which emails to keep and which to delete is both a tedious and unconstructive activity.

At one time webmail services had very tight storage limits and ruthlessly bounced new emails once we hit the limit, and computers had small hard drives which would often fill up.  Nowadays disk space is hardly an issue and we can just let stuff pile up in the cloud, unless a cloudburst sends it pouring down to earth.

So just why do people delete emails? Out of habit? Are they viewing their email as some kind of physical personal space to keep tidy? Here are some possible reasons we found, both good and bad:

delete button on keyboardTop reasons to delete emails:

  1. To save space
  2. It’s fun
  3. A clear inbox looks nice and tidy
  4. To avoid paying
  5. To avoid replying
  6. Because it’s not important
  7. Don’t want to think about it
  8. So no one else can read it
  9. To avoid wasting electrons
  10. It’s all backed up somewhere anyway

That last idea, a vague belief that it is all saved somewhere, is interesting because email can be in several places depending on how you  operate.

A clear inbox, of which we are all in favour, is best achieved by applying a combination of mail folders and filters.

Emails may be stored on your only device such as a computer, or if you sync them, stored across all your devices, as well as on a service provider’s servers.  Additionally, any of those devices may back up to a separate physical drive or to the cloud, whereas if you use only a webmail service your email probably lives only in the cloud and is subject to the weather there.  So when you hit delete, do you really know if your email has gone, and where to?

Dustmen and rubbish