From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

September 29, 2001*: My inbox runneth over.

For at least three months now I've had difficulties downloading mail from my standard mail program (Outlook Express) from home. As has happened to me too many times in the past, something went wrong in my inbox, and the program simply refuses to download mail. Occasionally I download from my POP accounts to the version of Outlook Express on the laptop that I have as a perk from work, but I want the mail that I download at home to actually be at home, so I seldom use this option.

But I can't always wait until I'm at one of my work related computers in order to check mail. In order to do that I use a web-based mail program. Via a program of this sort I'm able to check my POP accounts yet leave the mail on the server so that I can download it onto one of my work computers. Ah, but what web-based mail program to use? That's a question I've been trying to answer for a couple of years already. I'm still not sure what the ultimate answer is, but my attempt to find it led to the subject for this month's column.

For the present, at least, when I'm at home I check my mail via NewMail. It's a bit quirky when it comes to displaying previously downloaded POP mail, but I need it in order to know what mail is waiting by my service provider, not to save it anywhere on my computer. It's fast and easy to use. And it's spam free.

Spam comes in many shapes and sizes, and often one person's junk mail is someone else's cup of tea. That's the way I saw it about four a half years ago. Since then the listservs I read have been mostly spam free. I still get my share of chain letters and bogus virus warnings, and the occasional urban legend creeps in (I admit that I like those), but when it comes to unsolicited junk mail, it turns out that I've been leading a sheltered life.

Before I settled on NewMail I tried a number of other web-based mail programs in order to check my POP mail. I reactivated an old Hotmail account and checked my mail through it, but more often than not it didn't work well, so I let it linger. And then one day I check it again, and I noticed that my inbox was filled with junk mail. And I had to admit that, although I ordinarily claim that nothing internetic is foreign to me, this was a phenomenon that I hadn't personally encountered before.

Should my encounter with junk mail change my original feelings toward it? Should I devote time and effort to finding some sort of filtering software? Do I now understand that it's the scourge it's made out to be, or is it still, as I've suggested in the past, something that deep down we actually love? I admit that I don't really know. Bothersome, and perhaps repetitive, as it might be, I still find something in this junk mail that sparks my interest - not necessarily to read the mail itself, but perhaps to get inside the heads of those who send it. But not all of us are backyard, or armchair, sociologists. Most of us simply want to receive and read our mail without unnecessary interference. Fun or not, interesting or not, thought provoking as a phenomenon or not, junk mail is most certainly both unnecessary and interfering. I can be thankful that for the time being it only accumulates in an e-mail account of mine that I don't use.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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