Recently, on episode 126 of Enough podcast , Myke and I discussed my inability to bring myself to delete much of the years and years (going back to 1999) of email I keep in my archive. My friend Mike Rohde responded with a tweet and this email — both of which I found insightful and helped to relieve some of my guilt over just how much email I keep. I asked him if I could share it with you and he agreed. I have included it here, slightly edited for this forum, but sentiment complete.

The Value of Email

A guest post by Mike Rohde

Email in the 90s had gravity. Each msg held value in a way it doesn’t now. Then, we had only the context of letters, hand—written or maybe typed up on a computer, folded, stuffed, stamped, addressed and mailed off — not a task to take lightly compared to email — which took maybe a day for local or a week for distant recipients to receive. Then the process started all over again on the return journey.

Calling wasn’t the same either — yes, the phone services made it cheaper, though not as nearly free as now. If you wanted to call internationally — as I did on occasion with a friend in Germany to plan my first trip to Europe — it was pretty pricey.

Into this context of either costly in time or costly in actual funds, came access to an immediate way of connecting and conversing with others — local or far away — the distance didn’t matter. Email was like the best of both worlds — as fast as a call and as descriptive as a letter, all rolled into one thing.

I recall the fascination I had with sending email to Germany, through my cheesy AOL account and just being astounded at how easy and immediate it was. There was a kind of magic to email for new users like me, and I suspect you too, from this strange and wonderful new way to communicate.

On my first trip to Germany in 1993, my friend and I had shared numerous letters to plan the details with a few short and limited in quantity calls to each other. In 1995, it was a matter of sending several emails — we didn’t need calls because the email replies were immediate.

It’s hard to describe how much of a shift this was for me — but I have to say it was magical. Having email access to someone was freeing and felt empowering in some ways like Twitter has been for reaching out to others.

I can say the same for IRC chat as well – another magical way to reach out – and the way I made a great friend from Sweden while chatting in real time one night. Now SMS is nearly free – used and forgotten the moment after a text is sent. Teenage girls send thousands back and forth and have no thought whatever of archiving them.

But back to email — I think we share this memory and idea of email being magical, and that can’t be devalued when talking about old archives of emails. I found myself literally saying to the radio as I listened “why not keep old emails?!” They’re virtually negligible compared to say photos now — is there really a harm in maintaining an archive?

I suppose there is some value to maybe archiving and moving on to speed up apps, maybe. But I don’t know if minimalism completely applies here or not. I mean, it’s one thing to keep every letter you’ve ever received, or every piece of paper because they consume space.

I don’t think of my email archives until I need them and really, I don’t look back often. However, I like having them around — even archived somewhere — for those times it’s good to read and reflect on what was good years ago.