By Virginia Heffernan
At an Apple Genius Bar not long ago, a dead-eyed Genius laboriously backed up my groaning hard drive. As I stared at my database, a wave of disgust nearly knocked me out.
“Email is gross,” I said.
Our eyes locked. “Yes,” said the Genius. “God, yes.”
Five hours later, at home, my email was still backing up with more gross hairballs of data onto the backup disk. Saved for—what reason, again?
Email is everywhere, like litter in the 1950s: cigarette butts, candy wrappers, supermarket circulars. Every now and then the heap gets too high and we shove it out of sight into anonymous, far-off data storage chambers somewhere in Texas—the fetid noxious Fresh Kills landfills of our digital world.
Where does all the email end up? I wonder this, for the first time, because email is now a scourge. The once-miraculous digital postal service—first CompuServe then EarthLink now Gmail—that was my joyous gateway to the World Wide Web years ago is now a hideous obstacle to footloose digital living. This is not just because there’s too much of it. It’s also because all those headers and tedious routing information, and the possibilities of spam and malware and viruses riding those rails make the whole e-post seem pushy and malicious. No one ever agreed on the right way to write email, either, so it’s formally a mess.
Which doesn’t mean I don’t love good email. At its best it beats good tweets and good updates, and even good letters on paper. It can still be extremely moving and improvisational at once, and intimate, as it was 10 years ago in its heyday. A few friends of mine who developed those skills years ago can still be induced to write sublime, long e-letters. Sometimes I try to ask them broad email questions (“How was your year?”) just for the pleasure of their voices in the inbox. (Yes I mean you, @lucindaros and @caseygreenfield.)
But, God, the rest. Notifications from Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, VICE Media, NYTimes, bococa_parents, Madewell.com, Travelzoo, Soap.com, Barneys, horoscopes. Stuff with “Work,” and “Tech” and “Out of Office AutoReply” in the subject line. It’s humiliating; I’m a sitting duck. I unsubscribe and then resubscribe, fearful I’ll miss something. I try to delete, but I don’t try hard enough. I get as overwhelmed as a hoarder. And more email pours in.
I know some big shots who skillfully screen massive amounts of email—hi, David Pogue—but I don’t get nearly enough email for that.
And then one day after my visit to the Genius Bar I learned—in an email—about a paid service that organizes email.
“SaneBox” had a nice ring to it. And the promo had that swingy, fun, Web 3.0 tone to it—along with some captivating numbers: “The average employee spends 13 hours per week reading and responding to email, which takes up 28% of work time.”
(Huh? Average employee? Not at Starbucks, I’d wager—or at strip clubs or on the sets of plays. But OK.)
We spend a lot of time with email. That’s all I needed to hear. I installed SaneBox for a free trial and OMG. Instantly, nonurgent email was preswept out of sight—but not canned and deleted; it vanished in a spot where it could be looked at later. I say “preswept” because it didn’t even appear in my inbox. I never saw this junk- and quasi-junk mail. Later in the day I got an email summarizing what was stashed in my SaneLater box, which now appeared along with my other mailboxes flush-left in Gmail.
If I saw something I wanted there, I could “train” SaneBox to take it out of SaneLater and send it—this time or every time—into my inbox.
Best thing yet? A big chunk of my inbox was filled with super-old stuff that SaneBox just filed in my new SaneArchive. I like knowing that it’s “archived” and that I could look at it someday. Just not today.
My trial period elapsed and I started paying. It’s some $80 for an annual subscription. Worth every penny so far. My inbox is never far from zero these days, and I pay more attention to the good email because I don’t lump it in with the bunk.
When the Internet is working it keeps me sane. The full digital catastrophe, I believe, continues to be tilted in favor of higher reasoning, fruitful collaboration and even egalitarianism. Life gets better, in other words, as it gets more digital.
This month alone I’ve gotten inspiration and ballast from apps like Omvana, a meditation app; Vine and Instagram, for keeping the Web visual; and Cue, for calendar jive. Search and social networks still work well for me. I know Facebook’s uncool now and Twitter can be a madhouse, but they rarely fail to surprise and delight. As for search, Google long ago closed certain algorithmic loopholes that presented junk responses to queries. Lately I’ve been amazed anew at how I can put full questions into search—“How do you remove a light-bulb base that’s stuck in a socket?”—and just get the answers.
But there can be logjams and stagnation everywhere. And the Internet has to evolve. Email is a relatively old technology that is overused, and it tests my patience. I know that when I’m feeling revulsion from pixels that it’s me, and not email, that’s the problem. SaneBox organizes me and, for now, I love it. Nothing that’s wrong with the Internet can’t be fixed by what’s right with it.
Email is gross: How I cleaned hairballs of data out of my once-filthy inboxTue, Mar 5, 2013 3:32 PM EST
By Virginia Heffernan
- More snow, ice and cold to blanket East3 hours ago
- Newtown: Stay away on anniversary4 hours ago
- Girlfriend wants charges dropped against George Zimmerman2 hours 23 minutes ago
- Vet: North Korea confession coerced2 hours 53 minutes ago
- Uphill fight as Kerry defends Iran deal6 hours ago
- Bay Area gentrification battle boils3 hours ago
- Big banks see rich opportunities in world's poorest
By Julia Fioretti LONDON (Reuters) - When the Afghan government used mobile phones instead of cash to pay some of its policemen, the officers thought they'd just had a 30 percent pay rise. This anecdote from the U.S. Agency for International Development shows how technological innovations such as mobile banking and biometrics have helped integrate more people in emerging markets into the formal financial system, opening up opportunities for banks willing to take a chance. Half the world's adults, over 2.5 billion people, do not have a formal bank account, according to the World Bank. Many developing countries also offer banks the allure of a growing working-age population and an emerging middle class.
- Twitter shares soar, near all-time high
By Gerry Shih SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Twitter shares soared more than 9 percent on Monday to their highest level since the company's initial public offering after a spate of product announcements that could boost its revenue prospects. Twitter has mostly traded in the low-$40 range in recent weeks since November 7, when shares briefly topped $50 in the hours following its highly anticipated IPO. Twitter on Thursday officially began allowing marketers to show individually-tailored ads on Twitter, based on websites the user has previously visited. Apple Inc announced last week it would acquire Topsy, an analytics company that mines Twitter data, for $200 million, according to media reports.
- Canadian housing starts fall slightly in November
By Leah Schnurr TORONTO (Reuters) - New homebuilding in Canada slowed slightly in November, coming in below economists' expectations and suggesting some stabilization for the country's robust housing market, data released on Monday showed. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate of housing starts was 192,235 units last month from a downwardly revised 198,161 in October, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp said. Canada's housing market has shown resilience this year after a slowdown in the second half of 2012 when the federal government tightened mortgage rules due to concern consumers are taking on too much debt. Policymakers have kept a close eye on the housing market, which boomed following the financial crisis due to record low borrowing costs.
- Goldcorp says Mexican land group threatens Canada suit
TORONTO/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Goldcorp Inc said on Monday a group challenging its use of lands around its Peñasquito mine in Mexico is threatening to sue the company in Canada. The company and an organization of local landowners, the Cerro Gordo Ejido, have been locked in a tussle for months. Goldcorp in June won a temporary suspension of an agrarian court ruling that nullified Goldcorp's lease of the lands and ordered that the land be returned to the group. Since then, Goldcorp and the Cerro Gordo Ejido have been in talks with a view to reaching a settlement.
- Boeing must decide on F/A-18 production in March 2014: executive
By Andrea Shalal-Esa NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Maryland (Reuters) - Boeing Co must decide in March 2014 whether to invest tens of millions of dollars to continue production of the F/A-18 fighter jet, a senior Boeing executive said on Monday, underscoring his confidence that sufficient orders would emerge to keep the plane in production until beyond 2020. "I know where my money is betting," said Mike Gibbons, vice president of F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18 Growler programs at Boeing, told reporters after a U.S. Navy ceremony celebrating the 35th anniversary of the first flight of the original F/A-18 Hornet at the headquarters of the Navy's aviation command. "We have been extremely bullish about how much of a future we think we have on Super Hornet and Growler production," Gibbons said, noting that Boeing recently invested substantial amounts in new tools to reduce the cost of building the airplanes at its facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Boeing and its backers have launched a major campaign pressing the U.S. military to buy more Super Hornets at a cost of about $51-52 million per plane, including engines, radars and electronic warfare equipment, especially since the Navy's version of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter will not be ready for combat use on an aircraft carrier until 2019.
- Auto bailout saved 1.5 million U.S. jobs: study
The federal bailout of General Motors Co , Chrysler and parts suppliers in 2009 saved 1.5 million U.S. jobs and preserved $105.3 billion in personal and social insurance tax collections, according to a study released on Monday. The Bush and Obama administrations loaned the auto industry, including GM and Chrysler, which is now controlled by Italy's Fiat, $80 billion to avoid the collapse of the industry that they felt would result in the loss of millions of U.S. jobs. Critics of the bailout at the time had argued the companies should be allowed to fail and the industry that resulted from the aftermath would be stronger. Treasury officials have repeatedly said the bailout was not an investment meant to turn a profit, but a move to save U.S. jobs.
- S&P 500 floats up to record close in quiet day on Wall St.
By Rodrigo Campos NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged higher on Monday, with the S&P 500 closing at a record high, as traders awaited more clues from the Federal Reserve on whether the U.S. central bank would soon begin winding down its economic stimulus. Speeches from a number of policymakers on Monday suggested that the Fed may be closer than previously thought to trimming its $85 billion a month in bond purchases. A recent string of strong economic data, however, has removed some of the market's anxiety about the eventual ending of the Fed's quantitative easing program. A Reuters poll showed on Monday that economists expect the Fed to begin trimming its quantitative easing program in March, but some are warming up to the idea that it will do so as early as this month or at the January meeting.
- Fed's Lacker says frequent changes to QE unrealistic
A top Federal Reserve official and critic of Fed stimulus said on Monday it was unrealistic for the U.S. central bank to think it could make frequent adjustments to the pace of its monthly asset purchases. Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker also said any change in the Fed's bond-buying program would lead markets to wonder about the path for short-term interest rates. "If we change the setting of one policy instrument like asset purchases....it's going to be hard to convince people it doesn't have implications for the path of short term interest rates," Lacker told reporters.