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the electronic trail of inboxes

September 2, 2010

The first time I owned an email account, I was 17 going on 18. I won’t tell you how many years ago that was. Before that, I’ve only had my parents’ home address by which anyone and everyone could send me letters. But more than hand-written love notes and hate-mails, e-mails leave behind electronic track that sometimes allow you to trace the person’s position (via IPs, DNS-es and protocols) where they’ve sent you the email from (but to track someone using a public free email account, a more sophisticated system will be needed).

E-mails is the center of many of our lives, mine included. We’ve made inquiries, communicate with bosses, colleagues and clients, made threats (yes they exist), send hate-mails, write notes of infatuation, skewer another’s character, broken up, gotten together, and say things we’d regretted via email, The worst part is, once we’d sent the email, there will always be a copy floating out there in cyberspace. Of course, we can also say the same thing about other social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, Friendster etc) and also short text messagings via cellular networks. I can tell you that some of the most dramatic moments in my life, involving lovers, friends and enemies, took place completely electronically. Some of the messages I’ve deleted because they evoke painful moments, but I am sure, if there is someone out there determined enough, can be recovered. Hence, it is way easier to blackmail or threaten someone, or to use evidence against someone, now, than before. Otherwise, why would computer forensics be invented?

I used to have many email addresses, and I’ve misplaced passwords or lost interest in checking emails in these accounts as I switch to newer accounts. I think I must have about almost 10 accounts (but it could probably be less) over my lifetime, including work and school accounts. I never really owned a school account while in college and then while attending my first grad school, mainly because I never found them useful since the university hardly send us any information through these emails I can’t even remember how information used to be transmitted non-electronically  back in my former university. At college, there was no campus-wide internet connection, unlike in the US, and most of us would sign in to use some vacant computer at a lab. I would spend hours trolling through the hundreds of emails I received on listservs. Since I don’t even get to check my inbox(es) for weeks on end most times, my inbox(es) were always cluttered. I was pretty glad when, as a committee member of a student body, I had special email privileges that enabled me to check my emails more regularly for free from a special computer lab usually reserved for graduate students and certain members of the university. This was before the era of broadband in Malaysia, whereby I was limited to dialing in with a modem, and only dialing in after certain hours (since my 5 other room-mates wanted access to the only phone in the house).

It is so hard to imagine those days. Nowadays, everything is down via email. In fact, I use email so ubiquitously that I hardly use my phone except for quick communication. As I said before, many relationships are formed through email correspondences, and as many can be broken. Of course, today, people are moving towards more of instant messaging methods, so much so that many would not write personal emails anymore, but merely leave personal short messages at their friend’s profile page or instant messenger. I think the art of love-letters and epistle-writing is lost in the electronic maze.

But one thing is for certain. Your past cannot be merely reduced to cinders.

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