The Tyranny of Having the Same Email Address For a Long Ass Time

I get email every day from companies and people I couldn’t give a shit about. How they get my email address — probably, years ago, I got on some email list, then got added to another email list, and that email list was merged with another email list.

So, on and on it goes. The emails pile up, thousands of them, at least three quarters of them unopened. I’d like to clean this all up one day, do a bulk delete, but my concern is that, in doing that, I’d be deleting a bunch of email I actually do want to preserve. I often think of email as the journal you wish you kept but never did — by looking back at a month from a particular year, you could deduce exactly what you were doing then. It’s kind of cool.

But, what’s not cool is how, each day, you get bombarded with email, most of it mass mailings, and a lot of it — in my case — reflective of a completely different time in your life. As a journalist, it’s publicists who hit you up, trying to sell you on this project they’re working on, that product they’re pitching, some new initiative. They always want to ‘hop on a call,’ as if you don’t have anything to do with your day; rarely does an email elude to the passage of time, that maybe, after all these years, you are no longer doing what you did before.

It’s a little jarring, I have to admit, seeing people pitch you things you wrote about when you were 22-years-old, as if you are not now 38; imagine, for that matter, anyone doing the same thing for that long. Which isn’t to suggest that all that much has changed. I’d like to believe I am not that different now than I was then, but still, the sense that the person on the other end hasn’t graduated to something bigger, better, more pronounced — this is the problem with a lot of this email. It still believes, for some reason, that it’s 2005.

Now, I know, I could just get a new email address and start over. The only problem is — too many people whom I actually interact with have this email. I would hate to start over, because then I would presumably lose contact with a bunch of folks. I mean, that’s an upside. When you have the same email address for many years, even after a long passage of time, you are still reachable at that address, and thus there are people whom you might not talk to regularly, but want to talk with occasionally, who can use it to get in touch.

And yet I feel, evermore, that I am perpetually tied, by using this email, to a life I am no longer living. Not that I am not still that person, because in many ways I still am, but by keeping the loop open for all this time, I get reminded of many things that I’ve since left behind. It’s not just people pitching me things. It’s also the mailing lists you get on when you buy certain products, things you looked at one the internet one time. It’s disturbing to think that because you bought something on time, that you are now tethered to that product or that company for all of eternity.

There are ways to manage this, I know. As I said, I can delete a lot of it, I can unsubscribe, I can pull myself up by my bootstraps and make the best of it, blah blah blah. Right now, I just want to complain. And who knew that when I got an email address in 2005, I’d be complaining about it fifteen years later. You’ve got to marvel at the permanence of such an impermanent thing. An email address. Something it takes five seconds to sign up for and a lifetime to run away from. Again, I ask — who knew. Who knew.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.