March 28, 2006

Time Travel Through E-mail Archival

As far as my e-mail is concerned, the "Delete" key is a last resort - at least when it comes to messages with friends, family, colleagues or business transactions. Of course, the junk messages are incinerated, but my tendency is to hold onto e-mail forever, and I've taken great steps to ensure my e-mail archive stays intact, even as I change e-mail addresses, upgrade computers or migrate from one e-mail program to another. All told, I am fairly confident that more than 90 percent of my e-mail with known contacts since 1996 has been retained in an easily-accessible, searchable database on my laptop, and is backed up daily online through Apple's .Mac Backup service.

For me, it's not just the ease of finding data or people when needed, but there is something both funny and embarrassing about dredging up messages I sent years ago to people I haven't spoken to in years, now seeing the event in 20/20 hindsight, or simply noticing the way I have adapted my writing style from then until now. As time passes by, people do change, yet I have point-in-time snapshots of myself, friends, family and colleagues that will not be changed or edited for history. With the right keyword searches, I can cringe at my struggles with finances in college, wince at attempts to gain somebody's attention, or root myself on as I look back at challenges and changes in their infancy. I can also run a quick search to remind somebody of what they've said or use an old conversation to make a point.

What I have, using Apple Mail and the Mac's built-in Spotlight functionality, combined with a pack-rat like attention to e-mail storage, is what Google is hoping the world will move to with its integration of GMail and Google Desktop. You should never have to delete an e-mail, and you should be able to find any message with a well-defined search and parameters. While this is the future for some, for me, we're already there, and in case you were curious, the few times I need the data, its interesting, but not revolutionary. Fully 90% of all my archived e-mail will never be seen again. The good news is that it doesn't take up any physical space - only theoretical bytes from a hard drive with plenty of headroom.

Listening to ''Tribe & Trance (Voyager Remix)'', by John Digweed (Play Count: 5)