By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: my reaction when I found out I had 35,000 emails that I never saw and responded to…
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Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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When we moved back to China in 2010, my wife and I had already had our @brownlanglois.com emails for many years. I don’t even remember doing it, but apparently in 2011, I created a Yahoo Mail account, probably needed to register with a service or some such. It would appear that they were being forwarded to my firstname.lastname@example.org account and sight unseen, I forgot about it. For some reason, probably an update in Yahoo that I did not even know about, all the messages quit being forwarded and began to pile up, and little did I know, pile up they did.
Over the years, I do recall trying to add Yahoo to my Outlook on my PC a couple or three times, but it was quite complicated and failed each time, so I just gave up.
When we moved from China to Thailand last fall, I installed Outlook on my mobile phone, since we still have Office 365 Business Essentials from our Chinese company, Professor Brown School. In doing so, it asked me if I wanted to add any other email accounts and like an atavistic leap from my electronic past, I thought of my Yahoo account.
I adapt Outlook like a database, recording all kinds of stuff using the Notes section in contact files. I searched for “Yahoo Mail” and lo and behold, there it was. So, I added it to my phone. The mobile version is quite stripped down, with only the current emails showing. Therefore, I didn’t give it much thought, since I was seeing mostly notices about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a couple of Yahoo Groups I had joined years ago, focusing instead on the 25-50 emails I get every day on my usual email account.
Since getting to France last month, Microsoft had a huge update for Windows and Edge and it mentioned synching Outlook into a seamless whole. OK, why not? Again, fate from my deep memory was tempting me, when it asked if I’d like to add other email accounts, this time on my laptop, to my Outlook account. Thus, I added the Yahoo email and with all updates and improvements over the years, it did so without a fuss. On my laptop screen, I glanced at it below my other email addresses that I use (@44days.net) and I did a half scared, half disbelieving double and triple take. The Inbox was bursting with 35,000 emails! I thought it was like some kind of bad e-joke and hesitated a moment, as I double clicked on the “Inbox” button.
Holy Moly! Jeez Louise! What the fugg? I began to repeatedly click on “Page Down” and no shit, Sherlock, they kept going and going. Still not believing the obvious, I impatiently grabbed the elevator button with my mouse cursor and drug it all the way to the bottom, which took some time. And so it goes. I was looking at messages that had been sent to me dating back to 2015, when we were living in Beijing! My head began spinning and my heart was palpating.
By default, they were listed by “Date”, so to group them by sender, I sorted them by “From”. Starting with numbers and symbols, they cascaded down, all 35,000 of them, to Chinese at the end, since Mandarin comes after Latin letters.
What an amazing time capsule and map of my life for the last five years. It was all at once exhilarating, vexing, overwhelming and depressing. Going down memory lane, I came across hundreds of people with whom I had lost contact. What made me feel so bad is that they never got a response from me. Siblings, relatives, friends, fans and followers of China Rising Radio Sinoland, book and journalist colleagues, business contacts, writing leads, connection requests, invitations and on and on,
Jeff, please let me know what you think.
Looking forward to your prompt response!
Can I ask you a question about your book? I’m really enjoying reading it.
Happy birthday, Jeff. Thinking of you from X.
I found the article on your blog about X intriguing and wanted to ask you for some recommended reading.
Jeff, X would like to join your network. Please click “here” to accept.
On and on and on… several thousand of them. And they never heard back from me.
I was totally devastated, because people who know me will tell you that I almost always respond to their emails. Even strangers who comment about my work – including the angry ones who tell me to go F myself, I always politely reply. I felt worse than terrible, losing contact with all these people, many near and dear to me, and not following up on uncountable comments, requests and favors asked. Nevertheless, I started to try to reply to three or four, but when I saw the magnitude of the challenge facing me, I stopped. At 66 years of age, I would need a second lifetime to respond to each one.
What to do? What would you do? After several days of strategizing, I decided I would go through the 35,000 messages and when I came across someone I’d like to get back in touch with, I copied and pasted their email address into the list of people who receive my newsletter announcing a new article/interview/podcast. I figured after two or three of those, they would know who I am and if they’d like to reply, they would now have my email@example.com address to communicate with me. Incredibly, it took me about three full days of work to do all that, find, copy, paste… Find, copy, paste… Find, copy, paste. It was exhausting and nerve racking, but I finally got through A-Z and then all the Chinese contacts.
In closing, do you remember all those emails you sent me and I never got back? You thought I was a rude, uncaring, uppity asshole? Well, now you know why and I humbly apologize for what happened. If you reply back, I promise you will get a relieved response and hope that we can stay in touch in the future. My Yahoo Mail Inbox is officially empty and I hope it stays that way.
What a weird, once-in-a-lifetime experience… At least I hope only once!
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In Solidarity, Jeff
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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