Seventeen is the new zero

There is this long running debate going on in my house about sorting versus searching e-mail. My husband is on one side of the divide. He uses Outlook Express for his mail, and assiduously assigns all mail that he deems worth keeping into carefully named folders, based on a typology that only someone with his IQ can keep track of (he is a member of Mensa, by the way. Forgive me for basking in reflected glory). This is a man who, every so often, turns the house upside down to get rid of accumulated possessions that have outlived their usefulness. He applies the same philosophy to cyberspace, and so deletes any mail that is not essential, and sorts into folders that which is.

I am very squarely on the other side of the divide. I do not believe in sorting. Anything. My physical possessions enjoy a democratic anarchy of existence. Clothes are stuffed in tangled balls into my cupboards, books teeter in haphazard piles, empty chocolate tins that are too pretty to throw away share dusty shelf space with the kids’ handmade Mother’s Day and birthday gifts and cards from the last 15 years. As you can imagine, this slops over into my little corner of cyberspace. If I had folders, I’d forget how I classified them, and would probably end up with repeated folders simply because I’d assign a slightly different name for the same category each time, so the computer wouldn’t be able to alert me to the overlap. So I might name one folder ‘Kids’, and then forget I had that folder and name another ‘Family’. Since these are not mutually exclusive catogories, incoming mails would – even if I could get around to deciding which to keep and which to delete – get randomly distributed between these two folders. Guess what would happen if I needed to retrieve a mail? Extrapolating from my example, I would probably have up to a dozen folders to search in.

This is why gmail works so well for me. I categorise and sort NOTHING. But when I need something specific, I search for it, and there it is. This is how I have 7039 e-mails. According to my husband, I am a cyberspace-hog. I just think I am saving a lot of time. Sorting into folders is so twentieth century. Why sort when you can search? Also, how can I sort when I lack my husband’s ability to consistently keep track of mutually exclusive categories? I blame all the geeks whose technological brilliance keeps technodummies like me in a constant state of dependence. Google is doing my thinking for me, and I am a happy lotus-eater.

It is interesting to see how my children handle their e-mail. My older son Arjun has his father’s ability with categorization, but likes the searchability of gmail. He uses gmail’s labels, which to my mind is even harder to keep track of than folders, but he swears by it. My younger son Rishi is like me. Nuff said!

Zero is the number of unread e-mails my very efficient husband has in his inbox, because everything is dealt with immediately. Seventeen is the number of unread mails I have in my inbox. I don’t know which these are, because they are from so long ago that they can’t possibly matter now. I can’t even be bothered to search for these mails and delete them. I know I have a new e-mail when the number in the tab goes up to 18.


3 thoughts on “Seventeen is the new zero

  1. I have my mail routed to my imail for mac, so i see everything there. i can do both, but im more on the organizational side so sometimes i get tempted to put all the picture emails in one, anything to do with school in another, and so on. But i only do them for major stuff, otherwise a quick search does the job 🙂
    But thats a pretty bad habit, I obsessively check my email every day unless I have no access to internet ._.

  2. I think your ability to reduce information quickly, and to see structure in chaos, provides you with a cognitive ‘sorting’ mechanism that allows you to move peacefully through physically disorganised spaces. Whereas, someone like me, who doesn’t have that cognitive ability (or at least not to a useful degree most days), has to rely more heavily on physically rearranging things into categories and piles, which includes creating specialised folders in anticipation of the inevitable information soup that email accounts become. Now I need to go delete some emails…

  3. brilliantly putting into words the things that we only think about but take for granted / never really delve into.

    Thanks Shobha!

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