Charles Petzold

Every Three Minutes

November 25, 2006
New York, NY

Many of us in the computer industry have parents or grandparents who have gotten their first computers after retirement, and who enjoy exchanging email with their friends. For me, I think it will be just the reverse — I'm looking forward to old age and "retirement" so I can get rid of email.

I currently receive a steady barrage of about one email every three minutes. That's about 20 an hour, and about 480 per day. All but a handful (well under 1%) are spam and scams of various sorts.

About 11:00 AM on Thursday morning Deirdre and I headed out to my mother's house in Jersey, and then to my brother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. We stayed overnight there, and the following day we drove up to visit Deirdre's mother and sister in Utica. We stayed overnight in Utica and got back to NYC about 5:00 PM today . We were gone about 54 hours. I knew before booting up that I'd be dealing with over 1,000 junk emails.

Among those thousand emails were a half dozen important ones, including one sent out at 1:51 PM today from my ISP (RoadRunner) with the subject line "You are Over Quota": "Warning: Your e-mail storage quota has been exceeded. This quota includes all folders, not just your Inbox. Please save your e-mail to your PC and remove it from the server or new mail may not be received."

That's how bad it has become: Not picking up my email for 50 hours pushes me over my ISP's email quota.

I don't run a spam-blocker on my end for several reasons: First, I don't want to mask how bad the spam problem has really gotten. Second, I don't trust them. (I get so little legitimate email that I would consider just one "false positive" a week to be a significant problem.) Third (and this is related to 2), I suspect that the "fiddle factor" involved with constantly checking spam blockers would be more of a time sink than just going through and deleting the stuff manually.

My situation is certainly not unique. Like many others, I'm sure, I go through hundreds of emails several times a day and delete all but one or two. It doesn't take up a lot of time; it's the unrelenting three-minute drip, drip, drip that makes the experience so oppressive, and the scary build-up if it's ignored for just a day or two.

And so, while some people's visions of their far-off retirement years might include beaches or golf courses, I have blissful visions of an entirely email-less existence. And if people want to get in touch with me, they'll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by calling me up on the telephone.