Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Return to sender, address unknown
The challenge of eliminating unwanted emails

by John Halverson

December 13, 2012

"Please take me off your email list. Nothing personal. Just trying to simplify."

I've been sending that message out a lot lately.

I go through about 500 emails a week at my job. Most are unwanted and unsolicited.

Some were inherited from Lisa, the RN's former editor, whose email accounts were electronically shifted to me. Others are left over from the former general manager. Some come in via email accounts we haven't used or publicized in years.

Others I added along the way in some moment of weakness or obliviousness.

Add to that the dozens I receive through my personal email account and it was a bit like sorting through a tossed salad every day trying to find the croutons.

I simply deleted everyday.

And deleted.

And deleted.

I deleted so often I'm sure I was risking carpal tunnel of the finger.

Along the way, I'm sure that trigger finger eliminated an email or two I actually wanted. Sorry, if it was one of yours.

Then I had an aha moment.

Instead of spending all that time deleting unwanted messages, why don't I just ask them not to send them to me anymore.

With apologies to Elvis:

Return to sender, address unknown.

No such person, no such zone.

I knew it would be a chore, and it was.

There were a few bright moments.

Several of my previously unknown correspondents congratulated me on my attempts to simplify. I even felt a bit of envy in their tone, as though they wish they could do the same thing.

But mostly there was a lot of confusion and a plethora of different procedures.

Maybe when Al Gore invented the Internet, he should have considered a more consistent way to stop the flow of information once the spigot has been turned on. I have enough trouble turning off real faucets, I didn't need anything else to prove my ineptutide.

Most of the more professional outfits have something on the bottom of their page — usually in teeny, weenie letters — that says "unsubscribe." Sometimes the letters were in blue; other times they just blurred in with the other text. You had to read carefully — something I don't like doing.

When I hit unsubscribe on some of the sites that would be the end of it. I almost felt guilty.

Sometimes there'd be a heartfelt message of remorse from some robot explaining that they were sorry to see me go.

Sometimes the electronic response was a little less cordial. I got the idea that wouldn't be the last I'd hear from them.

Often I was directed to another screen. Most of those screens had another button I had to hit that said "unsubscribe." It seemed a bit redundant, but I went along with the game anyway.

Sometimes, I received a message back saying they were confused because my request was coming through, yet the account they were sending it to was Lisa's or some other address. I suppose they're trying to protect against the unlikely event someone would choose to hack into your account just so they could eliminate junk mail intended for someone else. But that seems a bit far-fetched.

Essentially, they just didn't want to lose me even though they don't know who I am or why they were sending it to me in the first place, or weren't willing to admit it. Computers still don't have brains or much common courtesy.

Often pushing the unsubscribe button sent me into a labyrinth of questions. The email robot wanted passwords, addresses, names of my first born and what I wanted for Christmas. One site required that I resubscribe before I could unsubscribe. We'll see how that turns out.

Sometimes there'd actually be a check mark next to something that said "subscribe" or "I made a mistake. I really didn't want to unsubscribe." I guess the thought was that you'd have this feeling of remorse within seconds of hitting unsubscribe. If only our own brains had such a STOP mechanism when it comes to real life. But in this case it struck me as a little self-serving.

Some of the sites essentially said, "whatever" or a snarly "fine." Others said it might take a few days or a week to get me off their mailing list. Funny, I'm sure it wasn't as time-consuming to put me on in the first place.

Others don't seem to have any opt-out process or at least they don't promote it on their emails.

That's when I replied with: "Please take me off your email list. Nothing personal. Just trying to simplify."

So how is it going?

It's still too early to tell. Some of those "we'll disconnect later" emails are still coming in. New ones keep popping up.

And I recently received an email promoting a book, "Unload Email Overload." Not surprisingly in this email mad world, there was no opt-out option.

But I do seem to be receiving less of what I don't want, which is a good thing.

And I feel better, cleansed even.

So now when you send me an email of utmost importance, it's likely to actually get read and dealt with.

If you do receive the "Please take me off your email list. Nothing personal. Just trying to simplify," message, forgive me.

Trying to simplify in an electronic world is a messy process.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.