Great article by RACHEL DONADIO on the challenges posed by saving literary correspondence.
I’ve been on this issue for a long time. I’ve been rather obsessed with it.
Here’s the problem. To prevent sychronization problems, I like many have been relying on web-based email addresses instead of email clients. That has worked tremendously well until I tried downloading them to my local PC. About a year ago I learned a shocking thing: POP 3 email doesn’t allow you to download the Sent box, only the Inbox. That is probably one of the dumbest design decisions I have ever heard. For yahoo Pop3, there is a workaround; there are commands to transfer groups of Sent email to another box, so you can use this command to move your Sent mail to your Inbox mail (making it possible to download it). It does take quite a bit of time to perform this command on a thousand Sent emails.
However, IMAP mail allows you to download your Inbox and Sent mail folders from your web email account. Unfortunately, most web-based email services only give you the POP 3 option. I am shocked—absolutely shocked–that more consumers aren’t aware of this limitation of pop3 email accounts. In fact, with some web-based accounts, the default is NOT to save old emails, but to destroy them. (Fortunately, web-based IMAP accounts are relatively plentiful; I use fastmail.fm with great success, but I’m sure there are others).
Here’s a revelatory email I sent to Terry Teachout about this last year:
Granted, it may not be fair to compare writers (whose job it is to correspond and pontificate) with politicians (whose job is to be bold and noncontroversial). But I just now looked at my personal email Sent box and see that in the last two years alone I have mailed over 4700 emails. Granted I would say about a third are simply forwarding articles or links, but there’s a lot of meaty emails full of thoughts, feelings, opinions and arguments. If you consider the fact that I’ve been sending emails 6 years and have pretty much written a similar rate of emails throughout the whole time, that makes 14,100 emails I’ve sent.
And even if I suppose that in pre-email times I wrote– let’s say — an average of 300/yr–, I’ve been writing letters since the age of 20 (and I’m 38 now). That would bring my grand total up to about 3600 letters and 14,100 emails. And I’m only 38! Granted I’ve always been a rabid letter writer (even compared to writers), but people like yourself probably write as much, if not more. If I live to be 65 and write emails at half the frequency as I do now, that means that I’ll have 27,000 additional emails to write, bringing my grand total to (drumroll please, 40,000 emails and 3500 letters).
Politicians may not have time at hand to write as often as writers/critics do, but they have families/friends to keep in touch with and writing letters is often easy for them.
My worries about archiving are 1)if people are archiving their mail, they probably are archiving their mail in the default Outlook binary format instead of a format which can be read by normal text readers, and 2)fear of lawsuits and subpoenas are causing public officials to discourage the use of notekeeping.