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Did you ever write some blog posts about a stage in your life or a specific interest or hobby? When last did you look at that blog?

I recently came across a short-lived blog I kept during my time at college studying Multimedia Design in 2008. Whilst only ten entries long, it did contain a few gold nuggets:

  • Getting my first work placement (where I ended up staying for five years).
  • Complaining I’d failed my web design module (hilarious).
  • Celebrating setting up a Gmail account that had the word ‘design’ in and feeling “almost semi-professional”.

That last one really tickled me, as back then having a Google account was like a measure of credibility. In retrospect, it was a very exciting time for me to be stumbling into the digital world at the same time as the birth of the iPhone (“a phone and an iPod in one, neat!”) and the approaching dawn of social media. What could go wrong?!

Web design in 2021

Here I am today, some 13 years later, and fate has lead me back down the web design path. Looking at this old blog and emails with new eyes, a couple of things spring to mind.

  • Storing all these old messages uses energy, and
  • Google has been scraping all these messages to construct a digital ad profile of me.

In the midst of my continued attempts to both reduce my digital carbon footprint and de-Google-ise my life, I figured it was time to address my old email account.

These days I don’t use this old email address, apart from for boring stuff such as bills that would be a hassle to update, however, there are still thousands upon thousands of messages backed up.

This is not helped by the fact that on the Gmail phone app, the default delete action is to ‘archive’. That means the message doesn’t get deleted, but the email is simply moved from your inbox to the unfiltered ‘all mail’ folder.

As I set to work to delete the endless sea of ancient social media updates – a task I thought would be a fairly trivial admin exercise – I soon realised I’d unwittingly strapped myself into a nostalgia-fuelled rollercoaster.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

This month I will be celebrating seven years in business as Paul Jardine Web Design. When I launched back in 2014, for some reason I thought it a good idea to run my business through my Gmail account rather than setting up a more official one (Pro Tip: don’t do this).

In the process of going through my old emails, I discovered some cool stuff, like old Google reviews, the early enquiries that kickstarted my business and the advice I got from other freelancers when I first set up (seven years down the line, I still treasure having a community of other self-employed people in my orbit).

I also discovered a message I sent to the owner of a design agency to thank him for recommending I go to design college. I have no idea if he ever got it.

Looking back

I kept going down memory lane, to my mid-twenties, working in my old job. The Gmail address is now for personal use and suddenly my inbox was flooded with Facebook updates (4 or 5 per day!) from friends I’m no longer in touch with and Twitter conversations I had with people of long-defunct accounts.

Who were they? Where are they now? Not that it matters now I guess.

I kept going, backwards and backwards. Like Benjamin Button, except he’s deleting his emails instead of whatever that movie was about.

According to a statistic I just made up, if you printed all the emails you ever received the country would literally sink from the weight. Blimey! Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Now we were deep into fuzzy grey territory. Tickets for trips I’d forgotten I’d been on, even a MySpace notification, eventually arriving back at University and then the primordial ooze of my HND course where I’d first set up my email address.

In one final twist, the oldest email on there was the design for the website I’d failed my college module for, and … yeah it kinda deserved a fail. I’ve come a long way since!

And then … nothing.

I’d got to the end, and I’ll be honest I felt kind of empty. All the reminders of these moments in my life, the festivals and holidays, old friendships, funerals and break-ups were deleted and gone forever. For a brief moment I even felt like I’d deleted part of myself!

Then I snapped back to reality. Did I ever need to reference back to any of this ever again? Of course not.

I deleted many gigabits of data and I’m now down to under 100 messages in my inbox (mostly bills from the last year or so).

According to Greenpeace, the IT sector consumes an estimated seven per cent of global electricity, and I’m committed to doing my bit to reduce that.

Going forward

It can be all too easy to let your inbox balloon with all the notifications, subscriptions and other junk that we get sent (and the email providers like Google, Hotmail and the rest really have little reason to encourage you to do otherwise as they want to scrape the data).

The best advice is to not let it get over-inflated in the first place. Here are a few tips to help you manage your inbox.

  • Unsubscribe from emails that no longer serve you.
  • Find a filing system that works for you and commit to filing emails daily.
  • Delete emails like “Paul has joined your Zoom meeting” straightaway or “Paul has replied to your tweet” – better yet, turn off email notifications for any tools like this.
  • Consider only checking your emails at certain times of the day, rather than on a constant basis. That may help you deal with your emails in a more focused way. I have started doing this as part of my digital minimalism practice and have already seen the benefits.
  • Keep your work email address for work, so your system is less messy.
  • Lead by example! Stop sending those unnecessary one-word acknowledgement emails like ‘OK’ and ‘thanks’.

Of course, if you want to get amazing web design tips and news straight into your inbox, then you can sign up to the monthly PJWD newsletter (just as long as you find it useful)!

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