I think if I had one chance to make one single change to my entire life from birth to now, I would find a way to back up every single sent and received email and bitnet conversation I had from the second I got an email account in the fall of 1989 to present. I would also figure out some way to index and search this crap efficiently, but I can figure that out later. I have bits and pieces of email from college, some near-complete archives, some important, but there’s ones I wish I could read now.
The biggest problem was that our accounts in school had quotas. VMS accounts had a 2000-block quota, which if I remember correctly is 2000 * 512 bytes, or about a meg. (Don’t start with the megabyte versus mebibyte shit – this isn’t wikipedia.) Anyway, that meant that on a weekly basis, I was making a judgment call over what to keep and not to keep, not knowing in 20 years that the email I got from some random person in a flamewar would be important, because said person would become the third-largest selling children’s author and have a movie done by Disney, or they would become a terrorist, or whatever. And those judgment calls were usually made when I went over quota. And I was probably drunk, too.
The bitnet thing also bothers me. I used to spend all day at work having these running conversations with various bitnet buddies, usually other people who also worked campus jobs answering phones or driving a desk. Bitnet was sort of like IM but ten years earlier, a way to trade lines of chat with another person, but without the fancy AOL-inspired UI and smileys. And here’s the problem. Okay, I was friends with this girl in 94, 95. In my head, I was more than friends with her; she looked like a 20-year-old Sean Young and didn’t know she was drop-dead gorgeous. And she was funny, and a lot of fun to talk to, and we spent like six, eight hours a day talking about nothing while I sat in the basement of the Support Center, telling people that there really wasn’t an ‘any’ key on their computer. And we hung out a few times, but nothing serious. There were complications, like she was a devout Christian, maybe a Pentecostal or something. And she went to church like five times a week. And she lived with her parents. But the biggest complication was that I was too chickenshit to do anything about it. That’s pretty much the story of my last couple of years at IU, and maybe I want to write that story someday, like part of this stupid book about Bloomington I have been plonking away at for years and have recently been pushing around, but I think I need to stop writing about Bloomington and write a book about a bunch of guys filling out their brackets for an office pool for NCAA basketball, except the office is the laboratory where they engineered the AIDS virus and it’s run by Josef Mengele. But I’m sure Jerry Stahl wrote that story as filler for Juggs magazine back in the 80s. But I digress.
My point is, I have a lot of the emails I have from her. But I have none of the bitnets, since you can’t log those. And all of the emails were “hey, are you online? bitnet me.” So much for writing that story.
Also, for any (both) of you who read Air in the Paragraph Line #13, I have this story called “Burial Ground” that is kinda-sorta based on a relationship and breakup I had in 1993. So this is a girl who I swapped a lot of emails with, a lot of pouring-out of the heart into the stupid EVE editor in VMS that I used to write my emails back in 1993. And I had all of them in an archive, and I never went back and read them, because it was too painful. I sort of told myself that after some set amount of time, or maybe when I got into another relationship and put it all behind me, I’d go back and read all of our emails. And I gzipped them up. And then I got like one email from her in 1994. And when I was cleaning up my account because I had no god damned disk space because of that quota, I zipped up the unzipped email. And it wrote right over the existing zip file without asking and deleted all of it. And I didn’t notice it at the time – only like a year later, long after any tape backup would have gone away.
And I dated someone in 2000 that went to Cornell, and in the beginning of 2001, I bought a laptop and tried to rsync all of my data from my home PC to my laptop. But I did the command backwards, and synced a blank hard drive on top of my PC. I had a backup from 1999, and luckily all of my writing was backed up to a remote account. But man, I wish I had that mail from 2000.
I also wish I had the mail I sent to people. Because back in school, I was famous for writing these giant, rambling emails to various prospects, who probably deleted them without reading them, but I would love to still have them. Starting when I moved my accounts to Speakeasy in 1996, I started religiously logging my sent mail, and aside from that 2000 blackout, have pretty much every mail I’ve sent since then. And I keep talking about some way to slice that up into something interesting, but who knows a) if I will ever figure out how to read and edit all of it and b) if any of it is actually interesting to anyone aside from me.
Here is the oldest email that I wrote that I could find that was marginally interesting. It was written to a guy who spammed everyone who was logged into a CS machine at a certain point of the night, looking for Douglas Hofstadter.
From: Jon Konrath To: William Winton Subject: D.H.'s email address Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1992 00:34:51 -0500 William Winton writes: > > I am looking for Douglas Hofstadter's Email address. He works at Indiana > University's Cognitive Science Department. If you know of him, please > send me his E-mail address. > > Much appreciation (in advance), > > William Winton > Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org Douglas Hofstadter doesn't exist, he is a bit of urban folklore here at IU. All of his work in the area of cognitive science was actually written by an elisp program called spew-random-cogsci-jargon.el that was developed for the emacs editor by Bill Perry. The Cognitive Science department is also a bit of a rumor, we are actually a vocational school that specializes in truck driving and air conditioner technology. sorry. -Jon Konrath, A.S. program, interior floor covering technology program