On Mailing Lists

Talk about junk e-mail!

Whew! I just unsubscribed myself to the last e-mail list I was subscribed to.

An e-mail list, if you’re not familiar with the term, is like a topic based mailbox that list subscribers can send messages to. When you send a message to the list, it’s automatically sent in e-mail to everyone on the list. The idea is that you can use a list to get information about a topic from people who might have answers.

The operative word here is “might.” A lot of times, subscribers won’t have an answer but they won’t hestitate to say “I don’t know the answer but wish I did” or “this might be the answer” or “that question is off-topic” or “you should ask that question in this other list, too” or “I just read the answer to that in this other list” or “why the hell do you want to know that?” Then the topic starts expanding in every direction, sprouting more questions and answers, only some of which are vaguely related to the original. Arguments develop with differences of opinion sometimes getting nasty. So one question can generate dozens of e-mail messages that may or may not have any value to the questioner. And if you didn’t ask the question in the first place and don’t care about the answer, it’s even more junk to wade through.

Of course, you can always take a list in “digest” format. That’s when they put a whole day’s worth of messages into one big, fat e-mail. I think it’s worse because you can’t even use a message’s subject line to determine whether it’s something you want to read (or delete).

One of the mail lists I was subscribed to didn’t have a specific topic. It was a strangely quiet list, with no messages for days on end. Once, I thought I’d unsubscribed to it — it was that dead. Then, suddenly, someone would send a message and twenty people would respond to it. Like they were all lurking out there, waiting for someone to make the first move so they could join in the fray.

The really weird thing to me is the amount of time that passes between the original message and the responses. Sometimes it’s as litle as a few minutes! Even in the middle of the night! Like people are sitting at their computer, watching every e-mail delivery, ready to dive in with a response when a message appears. Egads! Get a life!

Another list I belonged to briefly prevented me from posting questions or answers. Even though I was a subscriber, my messages were considered spam. Wow. Hard not to take that personally. I think I lasted about a week. Very frustrating when every time you try to chip in with a little assistance your message gets bounced back at you with a spammer accusation.

Why did I join these lists in the first place? Well, for a while I was feeling a bit isolated. I live in my own little world here in Wickenburg, one that’s very light on high-tech people. Very light. Lighter than the hot air the local “computer experts” spout while they’re pretending to their customers that they know what they’re talking about. I started feeling as if I were missing out on new developments in computer technology. That I lacked a reliable forum for getting answers to computer-related questions. That I had no place to turn to when I needed help.

I heard about a list from a friend and got mildly interested. When one of my editors praised it, I thought I was missing out on something really valuable. I jumped in. With both feet. And the barrage of e-mail began.

I’ve made worse mistakes. But not many lately.

So now I’m off the lists. All of them. My mailboxes are feeling much lighter these days.

I’m back to doing what I’ve been doing for the past few years. When I have a question, I hop on the Web and Google to get the answer.

What do you think?