I thought about my privacy, but I really didn’t care. I just really needed e-mail, and they were giving it away free. A gift that keeps on giving, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The internet because of its machine to machine construction encourages one to feel anonymous. When you communicate, you don’t see a familiar face, just a keyboard, and there is often no response, just keyclicks in a vacuum. Like looking out into the void. However, that feeling is an illusion. The internet is anything but anonymous. Diskspace is cheap, because of Moore’s law — it gets exponentially cheaper every few years. So, everything is logged. Not everything is searchable, and lots of stuff gets misfiled. But to think that one is anonymous on the internet is folly.
And nothing is more personal and searchable than a free email service. And this is the central theme of this post — Is free email really free?
What are the hidden costs? What did I lose?
Whenever I access my *mail *gle account, I am connecting to a system that I have no control over, a database that logs everything. All my mistakes, my mispellings, everytime I was pretentious and missed the point, are resident indefinitely. *gle is autocorrecting my emails, noting my mispelling and grammar, but autocompleting my sentences. It has all my emails, correspondance every person I ever knew, every purchase ever made, every credit card transaction, and bank account, every house I ever bought, etc.
If it wanted to, it could piece the puzzle of my life together into a digital synthesis. It could understand my life better than I understand it myself. But can I trust such a thing? Obviously, it would not doing something evil overtly, like emptying my bank account overnight. But might it not ever so subtly, put its invisible hand down on the scales — and change the weights ever so slightly to its own benefit.
One could envision that 1% of the truth is skewed toward their benefit. Certainly that would be a lot of power. It probably is more like 10%, because most commercial enterprises are greedy and sloppy in their doings.
But how would I know? How could I detect their digital fingerprints? The doings of an automated surveillance system. Changing and warping my reality.
One technique is using versioning and history. If I go back to some innocuous fact or historical item from my past — has it become inconsistent with newer, brassier information sources? Can I check an actual printed book against its online persona? If I do a selfie search for Nick Strauss, I get Neil Strauss. Why, Neil Strauss? Is it because his persona is somehow more valuable and noteworthy than my own?
Or is it simply because he happens to be slimier than me?
I knew that it was time to try to take back my email. You know it would be nice to have something to hide — an interesting life.
It so trivial to collect so much data for each and everyone. What is the distinction between targeted marketing and deer hunting? Several questions — Is there machine (or combined machine/human) intelligence on the internet advanced enough to reason about my existence? What possible motives would that intelligence have for interest with me? Can I posit that such an intelligence would want to make my life better? Would such an intelligence be trying to maximize the lives of aggregate humanity? Could I understand its motives?
Perhaps, I am in danger of writing a polemic. Maybe what this is really about, is becoming a smart internet citizen/user. Could it be that most people misuse this resource? I happen to check my free email account too often, as if I am expecting some very important lifechanging message. And it never comes, or actually it has come a few times in my life, but after much solicitation and preparation. When I got a job offer. So maybe this post should be really about how to use email effectively. How to make it work for me/ for you.
This article is geared towards an experienced GNU/Linux user with access to their own — or somehow protected physical and/or virtual machine, that has unfettered access to the internet.
Using RMAIL with emacs can provide enough email capability for survival. One might even prosper, as it is spartan.
Don’t keep a large file, output messages to their own files. These can be from or subject files. Can access messages with rmail-input-file. Make a habit of citing when replying using ‘message-yank-original’ c-c c-y. Can attach image with mml-attach-file.