My Life with Email

I have been using email for over 30 years. Many of the things I have accomplished in those 30 years would not have been possible without it. I just had an experience that is so absurd to me that I decided it was time to document my email history (rather than make a phone call or have someone deliver a piece of paper).

The Experience

There is a local non-profit here that is doing something I feel is really important. I decided to see if they would be interested in a BIG donation. Not cash but something they seriously need. I went to their web page and along with a donate button was an email address. Perfect. So, I sent an email explaining what I had heard they needed and what I would be willing to do. A week later I still hadn’t received a response.

Thinking the message title (Possible BIG Donation) could have been SPAM filtered I printed out the email, wrote “read your email” on it and gave it to someone I know who works there part time. A few days later I got an email response. While there was more content the amazing, to me, part was a suggested way to contact them — via Facebook.

Now, I long ago abandoned Facebook for all the CIA/privacy/sellng my personal data reasons but, beyond that, why would anyone want Facebook involved in a person-to-person communication? Note that on my computers I even redirect DNS lookups to a local web server that returns nothing. That gets rid of a lot of useless traffic making pages load faster and preventing me from being tracked by Facebook even if I don’t have an account there.

Have I called them? No. My life tends to be very asynchronous — mostly due to email. So, I can send email when people are busy of sleeping and they can read it when they want rather than having it interrupt what they are doing. Right now I know they would be busy — it’s a medical office — so why would I want to call at this time? So, instead, I am writing this post.

Starting with Email

I started my publishing and consulting company in 1983. I started it with my girlfriend and it was in our basement. I was still working full-time as a geek to pay the bills and she was in the office or off teaching classes full-time. Our communication was often through email. The messages were just on our local computer but it was the easiest way for us to communicate. We added a part-time person, mostly to do shipping, and they became our third email user.

Aside from the convenience, we quickly realized that email was self-documenting. That is, we had a record of what each of us had said in case there was some question later. Recognizing how important this was, even if we had a face-to-face meeting we tended to document it after the fact in email.

Starting Linux Journal

Ten years later we started looking into starting the magazine Linux Journal. One of our biggest issues was going to be communications. While a few of us were in an office in Seattle, we would have authors, editors, a proofreader, and, eventually, advertising representatives. For example, our first Editor in Chief was in North Carolina and our first author was in Germany. Email to the rescue once again. We sometimes uses FTP to send documents around but virtually all our communications was via email.

My Telephone Attitude

We were all working hard. We didn’t have time to waste and, most of the time, phone calls are a waste of time. Even an efficient phone call still requires you to get all people involved to block out a specific time for the conversation. Sometimes this is necessary but many times a group email would be far more productive. In fact, if we needed a group meeting — face-to-face, on the phone or on XMPP, we would always email the agenda so we were prepared.

In the late 1990s I bought a house in Pacific Beach Washington. It was a few hours from Seattle but offered me a great place to work without interruption. As I only had a dial-up Internet connection I was not always on-line but would check my email a couple of times a day. But, what about any phone messages on my Seattle phone?

My answering machine message evolved to the following: “This is Phil. I listen to my messages on Friday evening unless I went to the beach. If you are in a hurry to contact me, send email to …”. People who really needed to contact me got it. Salesmen didn’t. It worked great.

My Move to Costa Rica

At this point the company was maybe 15 employees (down from 27 when I had to trim the fat) and I was the guy in charge. But, I needed out of the rat race and, in January 2002 I moved to Costa Rica. No change in my job function, just a change of physical location.

Priority one was to get an Internet connection. While aDSL was on the agenda for the area it was not yet available which forced a bit of creativity. I ended up building my own wireless link from the center of Alajuela to my house 5 km away. I was back on-line and email became even more important. While I might have had six phone conversations with my second in command in the two years I lived there, everything else except for one whole-company retreat to Mexico was handled in email.

Later I moved to Nicaragua and with horrible connectivity I put in a VSAT link but things continued as in Costa Rica. Eventually aDSL came to the area which gave me a faster connection but no real changed until I retired in November 2008.

Email Today

While I have an assortment of web sites (this being one) to disseminate information and a few mailing lists, my primary communications method remains email. I probably send 100 email messages a day and read many more. Among recipients are lots of people who I have not seen or had any other type of communications with in 15 years, some much longer and quite a few I have never met. If I have something I want to share with a group of people I generally put it up on a web page and email the folks telling them it is there. Some sites (, for example) is for posts of information of a more general nature. If I need to ask a company or institution such as a bank a question, I tend to email them. If I have something to say to a person or group of people, the answer remains email.