This weekend I switched my email from Entourage to Apple's Mail.app. I'm still not sure it's going to take, but thanks to the Mail Enhancer utility, which gave me per-account signatures, it was at least possible to try.
Anyway, while doing a little email cleanup, I stumbled across on old .mbox from '97-'98 that I had taken from one of my old jobs. It was fun to read through those old messages, though it was just a tiny fraction of the hundreds I must have sent during that time. I loved re-reading my thoughts from seven years ago: projects I was working on, opinions I was forming, friends I was partying with, girls I was in love with. (Though I admit it's really just the blogger's inherent narcissism surfacing in yet another context.)
But I began to think about all of the email that I sent but no longer have. You see, I first started using email in Fall of ’94, when I went to college. I was pretty lonely at the beginning. I had left a extraordinarily close group of friends. So for much of the first semester I spent an hour every day, between my morning classes, writing to them. I must have sent hundreds of emails — reporting in excruciating detail the minutia of my first year at college. And though the volume of output dropped as I began find my place at school, I still sent a lot of email over those four years. Such an amazing record, far better than a diary.
But here’s the catch: the college’s email network ran on a VAX. So rather than use a POP client, we all telneted in and ran a command-line mail program. And while it had benefits (finger! & plan!), all the mail was stored on the server. When I left school, I managed to salvage some of the incoming messages from my friends, though none from first year (they were gone). And worst of all, the mail program hadn’t saved my outgoing messages. I’m sure there was a setting somewhere I could have changed, but didn’t occur to me until it was too late. And unfortunately, my friends hadn’t quite mastered the “quoted reply,” so I don’t even have that limited record.
When I first started sending email as a freshman, I didn’t think that I would care about the messages I was spending so much time on every week. Only later did I realize what a wonderful thing I had lost. But I so wish there were some way to get those early emails back.