Connections: Unsubscribe

For as long as email has been an everyday occupation, I have been in the habit of trying to rid myself of unwanted electronic communications by labeling incoming junk as “junk,” and vaguely sort of expecting and hoping that my laptop email program would eventually catch my drift and start recognizing and blocking the senders. I thought I was exercising the patience of Job as I waited for the email program to learn to do this. Somehow, the computer never did catch on, but I’ve been doing this for, oh, maybe 20 years now. Don’t laugh.

Some of my misapprehension about how these things work relates to the fact that, oddly enough, I actually was an early adapter of computers in the workplace, and I still apparently have one foot in the distant digital past, when anything seemed possible and none of the commands used were really intuitive. About a million years ago — could it have been the 1980s? — we started using desktop computers here at The Star for what we used to call “word processing,” a term, now that I think of it, that has just about gone into the graveyard of antiquated words like “hose” for stockings or “valise” for suitcase. The program was called XyWrite, and I remember distinctly how I had to convince my colleagues because some thought we would never be able to edit copy without typewriters and grease pencils.

How long ago that now seems; today, computer programs are so much smarter but also exponentially more complicated, and the truth is I have become computer-challenged.

It took a friend, who happens to be an excellent teacher, to set me straight about unwanted emails. Although I hadn’t asked for help, she noticed that I seemed to be crushed under an avalanche of spam and ads and junk newsletters, and explained that the way to avoid recurring them was to “unsubscribe.”

Of course, I had heard about unsubscribing, but never tried it, I guess, because in my admittedly old-fashioned way of thinking you couldn’t unsubscribe from something you hadn’t knowingly subscribed to in the first place, and I couldn’t remember ever having subscribed to an email list for anything, ever. My tutor explained that every time I buy something online, my email address is added to marketing databases and that the same thing occurs every time I sign an online petition.

And, no, she patiently continued, a computer email program does not simply take it upon itself to accumulate a file of junk clicks and use it as a “please block” list. Social media these days may be keeping detailed records of everything we view or “like,” or do, but that doesn’t mean email systems are programmed to read your mind.

Wow! In the week following her advice, I have been unsubscribing with wanton abandon all over the place. Despite the fact that email marketers seem to be in league to make it difficult by hiding the word in teeny, tiny type, I have become an unsubscribe champion. My inbox has never looked so neat.

This morning I found myself wondering if perhaps the computer was keeping track of all my unsubscribing for me, in some sort of handy hidden list that I could unearth and point to as I bragged about my unsubscribing prowess. . . . Oops! There I go again.