Technology Bites

empty mailbox 0419Why is communication so hard in this age of instant communication?

Back in the “olden days” (perhaps we’d like to call them Good Old Days), you sat down with a piece of paper and a pen, and hand-scribbled a letter to someone. They could keep it forever, and at some point a student of history would come along and use your humble words to puzzle out the whys and wherefores of daily existence.

This is true. In fact, while the initial history of America’s trans-Missisippi West, where I singularly focused much of my historical scholarly effort well beyond college (really, until I joined my history book group), was written based on the movements and activities of white men with titles (often military titles), the field expanded vastly once scholars realized what a treasure trove they had in the diaries and letters of common folk, often women.

Their detailings of quotidian activity paints a much clearer picture of what Life Was Like — and it turns out, it wasn’t a Native American battle a minute. In fact, if you take the time to track down pictographs and oral traditions, you can also get a much clearer picture of what life was like for those residents of the West who were already here before it became the West.

So what happens when scholars of the future attempt to assess everyday life of the early 21st century? If they can manage to hack any surviving Instagram accounts, they’ll think we were food-obsessed. And maybe they’d be right.

But unless a nebulous cloud survives in some manner that future historians can access, all these pretty words that I write every day might be lost to posterity. And what a shame that would be, eh?

Today I am having severe doubts about the survival of any of this information, based, of course, on personal experience.

There are many days when I think to myself, I haven’t checked my Yahoo account in awhile — I should do that. But then I don’t do that. A few years back, after Yahoo admitted to a massive security breach that occurred without our knowledge a full two years prior, I changed my password on their suggestion.

In hindsight, it was a stupid suggestion. The breach was 700+ days in the past; if anyone wanted to riffle through my very important e-mails, they had already done so. All changing a password did was create a memory issue for me. I did write the new password down, just like you’re not supposed to (although that seems safer than using some on-line password storage system, particularly when every single aspect of the internet has either been hacked or is about to be), but it was an extra step to take, dredging up the password, and I kept not getting around to it.

For whatever reason, this morning I did take that extra step and retrieved my password notebook — although it turns out, I had told my computer to save the password, so I never needed to take this extra step in the first place.

Yahoo seems to think it’s been over a year since I was last in my e-mail, which I suppose could be true. This was the first e-mail account I set up. Sometime later I used Outlook and e-mails offered by my internet providers until the last provider stopped being local and efficient, or even helpful, and a year or so ago I opened a Gmail account. So Yahoo defaulted to “back-up” status many years ago, although I’m still a nominal member of a couple of Yahoo groups and my Credit Karma account is through that e-mail.

So, for whatever reason I went to my Yahoo account this morning, and it wanted me to sign up for “New Mail.” The only thing I pushed was a color button, and then I was taken to an inbox where a happy little mailbox cartoon reported “Nothing to see here.”

That was it. Not a single e-mail to be found anywhere. Not in spam, not in trash, not in “Archives.” Nowhere. Nothing. Two decades of e-mail just completely gone.

Yahoo does have options for “help” strewn everywhere, but it’s a Zachary Zugg sort of help. (Remember the Uncle Shelby poem? The boy who “helped” break a toy?) Yahoo thoughtfully presupposes every question you might possibly want to ask (although Yahoo’s imagination is a lot more limited than mine), and provides answers that don’t come anywhere near addressing the problem at hand.

They have a “restore” button that will restore anything lost in the last seven days. How do I know when these were lost? It could have been a year ago.

Now, for $4.99 per month, I can talk to a live person. Call me cheap, but why do I want to pay a company $4.99 per month when I don’t have a single e-mail to show for it?

I finally managed to find a “live chat” button, and the upshot was: you need to use the “restore e-mails” option. So I did that, and the perfunctory form offers me no great hope. Your e-mails could have disappeared due to one of only three reasons, none of them Yahoo’s fault: you were hacked; you inadvertently deleted all your e-mails on a computer; or you inadvertently deleted all your e-mails from a mobile device. Those are the three options. None really address: my entire account has gone missing.

Then they want to know how long, in hours, your e-mails have been missing. After several hour options, you can go as far away as seven days, so that’s what I did.

And then I wait, with no bated breath, for what the live chat said would be 24 hours and the “restore” button says will be eight, to see if anything returns. So far I have one lone e-mail, from Yahoo regarding my lost e-mails. And I have an ad, for a steam shower, in case I need to purchase a second one.

In the meantime, I am left to puzzle out what might be lost, and I haven’t gotten very far in this. I have other things lost in plain sight, such as all my e-correspondence with Lynn. Much of that took place in Outlook Express, and at some point Microsoft forced an upgrade to Outlook (I can’t really begin to tell you just how much I love upgrades), rendering all of my Express files non-functional. I have Lynn’s e-mails in a “dbx” file, but have never found anything anywhere in the vastness of the internet to tell me how to convert such a file. Or open it without Outlook Express.

Which means that historians in particular and the world at large will be bereft of so many of my pearls of wisdom and not even know it. There I am, a casualty of the 21st century.

We — meaning, not really me, but some smart people — can find and read clay tablets impressed with writing millennia ago. Sometimes even paper has survived over thousands of years. But all our viral pictures of plated breakfasts and scrumptious lunches? Those might well be lost to the ages.

So while the internet may be the Greatest Miracle of Our Time, it may not serve us well in history. And that’s kind of sad, but not as sad as the loss of my entire Yahoo inbox.

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