Gary Brown: What emails say about us
Suppose that the only thing people could use to learn about you and your life was your emails.
I know. I shuddered, too. It’s tough to realize that strangers would remember me mostly as the guy who saved at least four emails picturing dogs or cats in cute poses, about three that repeat jokes about getting old and a couple of emails that were nothing but funny cartoons about Easter eggs.
Nothing would be found in my emails concerning me curing a disease. Nary a word in an email would confirm to researchers that I had ever written the great American novel. No emails would indicate I was even in the slightest way helping to foster a lasting peace in the Middle East.
In fact, my emails would show little about me other than I was the kind of guy friends apparently thought of before they said to themselves, “I’m going to send him this link to the video showing goofy golf shots; he’d identify with that.” More than one friend sent me this sort of email. I’m sort of embarrassed about that.
What all this shows is that you should never re-read your emails, much less put them all out there for everyone else to study.
“Look here. In this one he just said, ‘Lunch? Usual place?’ What do you think he meant by the ‘usual place?’”
And, according to a New York Times article I read the other day, this is exactly what Stephen Wolfram, a “scientist and entrepreneur,” is doing. He’s using a computer program to analyze hundreds of thousands of his emails — back to 1989 — to see if it reveals patterns in his life.
I’m kind of afraid that my emails might show that the pattern to my life, at least to my lunches — the “usual” — is any place that they speak through a microphone and have a “value menu.” I didn’t go back through all of my emails, but I believe I exchanged and stored electronic evidence of that sort of drive-through thriftiness.
I’ve done a lot of thinking since I read the article and I’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be judged by our emails.
What my outgoing emails might show people is that I like my friends and relatives enough to send them “Happy Birthday” emails, but I often have to add the words “sorry it’s a day late. ...”
And my incoming emails could make it appear to people that I know a suspiciously large number of dead royal family members or deceased foreign businessmen from countries in which there apparently are billions of dollars of money that needs to be brought to the United States, and I’m just the carefully chosen American “Sir” at a randomly chosen email address to do it.
I exchange TGIF emails, so apparently I like weekends.
And I have college friends with whom I occasionally trade emailed lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou.”
“Now, when I was just a little boy, standin’ to my Daddy’s knee,” one email might begin.
“My poppa said, ‘Son, don’t let the man get you,’” a second might sing.
“And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin’,” a third perhaps might intone.
My own email might add, with the proper punctuation for a line in the chorus, “Born on the Bayou!”
So I think we can all see how studying emails can show people a lot of things that likely should be left unsung.
Contact Gary Brown at email@example.com.