revisiting email retention

I have an archive copy of just about every email I’ve sent or received since about 1996, and certainly haven’t deleted an email since 1998 – not even the spam. ┬áMany people know this – and many colleagues do something similar.

I suppose I have two reasons for doing this:

  • trawling the archives is occasionally useful (for finding information, or confirming what someone said, or being reminded what I said); because just about all of my work is eventually mediated (in and out) by email, the mailbox archive plays the role of a professional journal.
  • the process of filing and deciding what to retain and what to delete is insanely time-consuming, and easily costs more than the now insanely cheap cost of disc storage and associated backups.
This approach actually extends beyond email – I haven’t really deleted a file in a decade or so.

Lost Treasures

Some say computer science rediscovers old ideas every twenty years or so. Justin mentioned it last week in the context of explicit vs implicit information flows. I was reminded again today when I saw a call for papers from IEEE Security & Privacy titled ‘Lost Treasures of Computer Security & Privacy’ [http://www.computer.org/portal/web/computingnow/spcfp6] for a special issue next year. The list of topics the editors seek makes for fascinating reading, but I wish to note a different, practical reason.

When tracking down a reference a few months ago, I ran into an example of what librarians call a ‘black hole’ or ‘dark age’: periods of history inaccessible due to changing technology. The document I was looking for contains hearings before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Small Business, 85th Congress, in 1957. But when I went to that room in the regional depository library, all I found were pieces of shelving on the floor. The microform collection is being digitised and decades of microfilm are ‘temporarily unavailable’, where temporary may mean upwards of a year or more.

What other instances of forgotten lore have you personally encountered?