The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

These'll Be Worth Something Someday

So I was just doing a long-belated sweep of an old work e-mail account before it gets closed down for good, deciding what to save.

I’m pretty swift with the delete key, and exactly two classes of messages survived the cut:

  1. E-mails from girls I had/have crushes on
  2. E-mails from friends or colleagues who I think might one day be famous

Both surprisingly large groups, as I am by nature optimistic.

Also, this may be revealing too much, but I had an Outlook folder titled ‘NYT stalking.’


I often wonder about what the shift from written to electronic correspondence will do to our study of the private and professional lives of famous men and women. When you read James Joyce’s letters to his wife, or Franz Kafka’s diaries, it’s a difficult to foresee what the experience of reading “The Collected Weblog Entries and E-mails of ……” might be. What would a biography based on that be like?

On the one hand, more people in the electronic age have documented personal and professional correspondence, and more of it, than ever before. But the vast majority of it is haphazardly and informally written, edited, and preserved. It’s like the mansion at the end of Citizen Kane: we keep everything, the art together with the junk, and it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s worth keeping, noting, or interpreting, without risking throwing a few Rosebuds into the fire.

To a certain extent, this has always been a problem. Archives are mixed, incomplete, and geographically scattered. Digitization of manuscript and print archives helps to change that. But it also suggests that the future historians of the present will need new methods of research and interpretation to make any sense of what it is that we’ve done. Otherwise, we’ll continue to have an overdocumented present and an underdocumented (and quickly receding) past.

Exactly what Tim said. Some of the most beautiful things I have ever read are letters. The New Yorker has run some particularly beautiful love letters over the years. This famous Civil war letter from Sullivan Ballou is probably the tops. And I feel like we’re the cusp of the generation that stopped writing like that. I mean, seriously, if I ever become famous and worth writing a biography about, people are going to have to sift my IM and email records with a fine tooth comb before they find the good stuff. I’ve often tried to revive my old, ~1995 habit of letter writing, but it seems pretentious.

Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if Googlezon or somesuch builds exactly such a finetooth comb.

Me, I just want to see the lists of “girls Robin has crushes on” and “people” Robin thinks will be famous.” 🙂

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