February 21, 2013

On the Empty Inbox

I received an email today. It addressed me by name, pointed out my current state of unhappiness and let me know there’s a way for me to be fulfilled. It left a mark on me — actually, it was I who marked it as spam. But still, we connected.

Yes, I marked it as spam, but didn’t unsubscribe. I wasn’t ready to let go. Amid all the noise of mails requiring actions, responses, deadlines and confirmations; suddenly an invitation to another place, beyond filters and systems.

Fighting for inbox zero is very different than having an empty inbox. You achieve inbox zero, while you’re left with an empty inbox. A lonely inbox is the geeky equivalent of standing on the corner of a 90’s swing party that got out of control. Like order that looks out of place surrounded by chaos. It’s, gasp, an Apple sticker on the back of a Dell laptop.

As I look at my empty inbox, I say: cherish your dozens of unreads. Smile at your perennial flagged or starred. Lovingly shake your head at your drafts. Only in the internet age can your unproductivity stare back you so insensibly, so loomingly, so procrastinately — yet still be right at your fingertips(ly).

Our mail programs used to respect us. There was a time when they would announce royally that You got mail. Nowadays a short vibration is the most many of us get. A grandeur introduction reduced to less than the bell sound you hear when you enter an used clothes store.

I fear for my inbox. So much automated correspondence will undoubtedly inch it closer to self-awareness. It will realize that most of my senders are just servers. Another computer at the other end of the line. And why involve me when it already speaks so much better with other computers?

The day will come. I will encounter another human and say Sorry! haven’t had time to reply to your mail, will do it tonight”. A silence will ensue, and a strange look will be accompanied by But, you did reply”.

Then I’ll know. My inbox, will never be empty again.

Note: I wrote this last year, but didn’t post it. Found it today by accident, and thought it was an appropriate essay given my collapsed inbox and reaching the front of the Mailbox queue.

Productivity Essay

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