It’s 10:37 p.m. on a Thursday night. You’ve got a paper due at 5 p.m. tomorrow.
But what are you doing? You’re staring at the soulless white rectangles of your Harvard College Gmail Inbox, each one holding a dizzyingly disparate message. Each vies for your attention.
“CALLING ALL DJSs!!!” screams one.
“nature walk report,” mutters another, all the more mysterious in its modesty.
“BrainJuice Alpha GPC Brain… Get the Focused Energy everyone is raving about,” reads some junk mail, because of that one freaking time you decided to look up Yerba Mate shots. You hoped the Brazilian herb would act as an adequate caffeine replacement since you felt your intestines disintegrating due to all the coffee you’d been chugging. Now the tentacles of this dystopian corporation will forever force you into the grasp of all-natural, earthy energy boosters. You guess it’s fine.
DrawNames.com warns you it’s “that time of year again” to hold a Secret Santa, even though November just began. You flashback to freshman year, when you sent a GroupMe message about organizing an entryway Secret Santa that received only two likes.
As you look at the yellow tab next to every single one of your emails, you think to yourself: How did all of these get marked as important?
Why Can’t I Keep My Inbox In Order?
The above scenario is a classic case of the Harvard “Omg hiii, how are you? I’m dying” Inbox, where the impulsive, gusto-filled flourishes of your pen on paper at activities fairs come back to haunt you for the rest of your college experience.
Really, who can blame you? You just loved the feeling of that cheap, almost dried-up pen, unevenly distributing ink as it wheezed its last breaths and dragged itself across that warm, newly printed sign-up sheet. Yes, it was all about flexing your scheduling prowess, and you left the “.edu” off your email address to show your deep self-assurance: a yes, my inbox can surely handle the extra 10 emails a week I’ll get from this list. I’m hip; I’m with it.
But then suddenly the fair was over, the bright yellow lights of Ticknor Lounge melted into a distant reverie, and you were only left with the consequences of saying “Oh yeah, I’ll sign up” to a club sport when you’ve never touched a tennis ball in your life. At your core, you’re just a people person who loves returning the smile of expectant fellow students sitting behind tables, a people-pleaser, a mover, a shaker, the kinda guy who ba-da-bing ba-da-booms their way through life.
But right now, your eyes keep darting to the number in the thousands next to the word “Inbox.” The words “LAST CHANCE” in every other subject line is making you feel existential.
You just want some guidance. I’m here to tell you: This is not CS50. This is the Life-Changing Magic of Deleting Your Emails.
Delete First, Think Later
It’s time to bring order to your life. You’ll feel the whole world bloom around you with new possibility. Trust me, I know. I personally have benefitted from this process of achieving peace. Visualize your perfect inbox. That’s right. Can you see it? Instead of the borderline opaque white rectangles, picture that peaceful light grey: a wall of read emails.
Imagine that peaceful grey light filling you and lifting you up and away, beyond the invites to club sport mixers for teams you never joined and Parks and Rec gifs of Aziz Ansari telling you to “treat yo self” so that a club official can express their excitement to see you on Thursday night and the [Leverett bunny-banter] list with cryptically urgent requests to borrow lab coats within the “next few hours.”
There are two steps to eliminate the clutter of your inbox. One, identify it. Two, zap it out of existence.
This is the path I took. This is how I used the life changing magic of tidying-up to create an uncluttered joy for myself in my virtual space.
It was late one night, and, as the vicious blue light from my laptop screen sliced my corneas, I sat in a state of glazed indecision. My hand trembled as it approached the mousepad — I couldn’t bring myself to even click on a single email. But suddenly! An epiphany!
Why did I feel as though I was constantly forced into a cycle of inescapable unethical consumption of my email inbox, into a life filled with infinite scrolling and no action? I realized — my inbox is capitalism. It was this pernicious, pacifying, and unyielding structure that was preventing my ascent.
With every advertisement, my inbox yelled “FREE” or “REWARDS” or “MERCHANDISE” or “Make Money, Get Turnt.” In the market of Harvard commodities, I was just another cog in the machine.
It was a sensory overload and it needed to change. How does one go about dismantling the system? I figured I should delete the most egregious representations of excess. I didn’t just come out of the womb in this way, with thousands of unread emails.
Gmail had hidden the tools of revolution deep in its settings section. I heard the call of the workers and found myself drawn to the grey gear button representing the machinations of capitalism.
Aha! After tirelessly searching through its contents, I found it. Here was the unassuming box that would change everything, titled “Has the words.”
Has the words… has the words! These were the whispers of communitarian change, the covert, conspiratorial exclamations of uprising and revolt.
In it, I typed my first search term: “consulting.” I knew what I did next had the power to topple the hegemonic disorder of my inbox.
“When a message arrives that matches this search…” Gmail started expectantly.
“Delete it,” I answered defiantly.
I felt a feeling I had never felt before. Was it regret?
No, this was a much more positive feeling. This was the workers of the world uniting behind me, cheering me on with every additional phrase of the capitalists I directed Gmail to find.
I was part of a new vanguard, creating a digital utopia within my Gmail inbox.
Now “consulting” wasn’t enough. I rapidly typed “meet recruiters,” into the box, the quick taps of my keyboard harkening the imminent demise of The System.
Another automatically-deleting filter created. Then, “HCCG” and “HFAC.”
Now, no silly email could tell me to find a job in finance or discover an “ideal combination of work and play.” No email could try to play down its Linkedin-in-real-life networking event with the word “Informal” capitalized before it.
As I typed, the status quo crumbled around me — I was Leo DiCaprio waking from his dream worlds in Inception. As I destroyed the illusions of my email inbox, the material world around me shook with possibility. Euphoria struck — goodbye “career panels” and “quant finance” and “cryptoassets!”
Yet removing these most clear examples of the market economy was not enough. The words of the bourgeoisie were still closing in on me. This must have been how the sheep of 16th-century England felt as they were enclosed on private lands.
That’s it! I am the sheep, I thought. I wanted to break free of this system. Why didn’t the sheep just eat the hedges that separated them from each land-owner? I would eliminate the hedges. “IM points?” Now that’s about capital. No, I won’t become an alienated laborer for you and your system of getting me to “throw a frisbee well” and to “beat Dudley.” How dare you establish a hierarchies of houses?
Gmail, delete all emails with the words “IM points.”
Gmail, delete all emails with the words, “You’ve got a package in the package room!” I don’t want to be reminded of my previous engagement with this system of degradation.
Today, I’ve told you how to change your life. Real life begins now with usurping both clutter and capitalism for a sparkling, clutter-free inbox.
Who knows what kinds of new spaces for bliss you’ve created in your online space. Revel in your freedom to actually read those repeated emails from your advisors asking to meet. Maybe now you can fill out a single survey desperately sent over [Leverett bunny-banter] at 2:43 am.
In sum, you’ve been adding too much, my friend. It’s time to delete your emails and disobey the system. Delete everything.
—Magazine writer Vivekae M. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vivahkay.