Spam is a waste of the receivers’ time, and a waste of the sender’s optimism.
-Mokokoma Mokhonoana, The Confessions of a Misfit
The more connected our lives become, the more we immerse ourselves in digital noise. Every website wants to send us notifications, grab our email address, or show us an ad (or ten). Our phones never stop vibrating. Two minutes on Facebook turn into “Hey, where’d the day go?” …Okay, that last one might be a slight exaggeration.
In this mini-series, we’ll be looking at four of the most common digital attention vampires and the flavors of digital garlic to keep them away. We’ll start with newsletters, which are the digital equivalent of yesteryear’s physical junk mail (sadly, the rise of the former didn’t didn’t signal the demise of the latter).
It seems like every other website tries to trick you into giving over your email address. They promise freebies, coupons, and exclusive discounts, or promise to send you other Things That Will Definitely Interest You (spoiler: they probably won’t). You could, of course, not give them your email in the first place, but some websites won’t let you make you post a comment or make a purchase without making an account, and then they sneakily put you on their marketing mailing list whether you ticked the box or not.
You could avoid these websites altogether, but sometimes you might actually want the stuff. The problem with giving your email over to one party is that sometimes they resell it, or sign you up to five different categories of newsletter that you need to opt-out of one by one, and before you know it you’re flooded under a deluge of messages you never asked for.
The problem is, sometimes there might be useful information to be gleaned from a newsletter. Sometimes. So here’s what you can do.
1. Don’t subscribe.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Like we’ve already seen, though, websites use a myriad and one tricks to get you to do just that. Look for sneakily-placed check boxes and small print.
Be especially cautious about signing up for raffles and giveaways. I once signed up for a makeover giveaway and found myself getting marketing spam from every men’s shoes company in North America (or at least that’s how it felt).
2. Use a throwaway email.
If you do want to sign up for a freebie or one-time discount, use a disposable email address. There’s plenty to choose from, and once you get what you’re after you can just forget about it. While some websites block certain disposable email providers, but there’s plenty to choose for, and more keep popping up.
A word of warning, though – be wary of sharing or receiving any personal information via a throwaway inbox. Things like your real name, shipping address or credit card details are best left for an email address that you and only you have control over.
If something you don’t want still managed to find its way to your day-to-day inbox, unsubscribe as soon as you receive it. Don’t just delete it or, worse, close the app or the browser tab and forget about it. Like Medivh in Blizzard’s World of Warcraft universe, it will return. Probably more than once.
All senders are required by law to include an unsubscribe link their emails. It’s usually at the bottom of the message, in tiny print. Maybe it’s not underlined so you won’t think it’s a link, or maybe the font color almost makes it blend into the background. Look for it. It’s got to be there.
While you’re at it, you might want to also unsubscribe from all notifications of the Here’s-what-you’ve-been-missing! and Hey-we-found-these-awesome-things-for-you! type. Every time I make a throwaway social media account, I get emails like that every. day. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are the worst culprits as far as I can tell, but there are others (looking at you, LinkedIn!) It’s best to bulk-unsubscribe from these time-wasting emails and actively choose the content you want to look at.
So you’ve curated your newsletter subscriptions, gotten rid of all the spammy social media emails (who even cares if Acquaintance Whatshername posted a photo?) and snagged a few tasty discounts in the process. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to the things you do want to keep, because minimalism – whether physical, mental or digital – isn’t just about downsizing. It’s about enjoying what you choose to keep.
An organized inbox makes it easy to get the big picture at a glance. I like eM Client*, which is free for up to 2 personal email accounts and very easy to use. Some people I know swear by Microsoft Outlook (and other poor souls use the Windows Mail client and still haven’t figured out if Microsoft ever lets you change your name).
* This post is in no way sponsored by, endorsed by, or acknowledged by the good folks at eM Client. They’re still awesome, though.
Anyway, back to eM Client, you can set rules for incoming mail so messages from a certain sender or containing certain keywords automatically go to this folder or that. You can have a folder for discount codes, another for receipts, and maybe a third one for that uncle who’s been forwarding you chain mails for fifteen years.
If organizing isn’t for you, and in the true spirit of minimalism, you might consider another alternative…
Most of the things that live in our inbox don’t need to be there at all. If I look at my primary inbox – the one I use for shopping and freelancing stuff – all I see is flash sales, shipping notifications and appointment confirmations. All of these come with an expiration date: the flash sale ends – usually before you even see the email (curse you, timezones!), the product arrives, or you take your appointment and then forget about it. The email, not the appointment.
Stay tuned for the next part of the Digital Detox series, where we’ll take a closer look at another insidious form of digital attention-grabbing – web ads. Coming Soon™.