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I didn’t think I had a problem — certainly not with hoarding. No one looking at my house would ever think I had those kinds of tendencies. You won’t find spoiled food in my bathroom or dead plants acting as spider housing in my living room. I don’t have 57 cats or a collection of used Wendy’s napkins. I don’t have clutter; I have possessions. I can throw stuff out, I can purge. But getting rid of e-mail was always somewhat of a challenge for me.
There was a time when I found it very difficult to delete the e-mails from ex-boyfriends, work friends, or potential networking people. I saved e-mails that praised me, informed me and even e-mails from when my cat, Evan, passed away. It seemed cold to just delete these heartfelt condolences and compliments. My old e-mails comforted me. I didn’t need to read them; just knowing they were there in my saved e-mail folders made me feel loved.
My mother is amazingly unsentimental and is also someone who doesn’t hang on to anything: not pictures, old letters, or even my book report on the Salem Witch Trials for which I received an A+. I can’t be like that. I need to save the evidence of my life.
I thought that even if I kept every e-mail I ever got, I wasn’t an emotional hoarder, and then my e-mail got hacked.
The first step of my hacker’s pain-in-the-ass plan was to send a spam e-mail to every single person in my address book. It wasn’t the kind of spam where there’s a link to a Mexican pharmacy or an "Increase the Size of your Penis through Mind Control" advertisement; this hack took more of an effort. This hack felt personal.
Here’s the e-mail that all my contacts received (with my notes):
I really hope you get this in time. I didn’t tell you about my visit to France [that sounds suspicious right there — if we aren’t close enough for me to tell you when I’m going to France, why would I be comfortable enough to beg you for cash?] with my family for a short vacation [not only didn’t I go anywhere for the holidays, I’m not married and have no kids. But the France part is a nice detail. One of my best friends does live in Paris. I have visited there in the past; just not in the last 10 years] but unfortunately we were robbed at the hotel where we lodged [lodged? Is this 1950s Great Britain?] along with other folks [now suddenly we’re homespun in Alabama].
We did not [everybody knows how fervently anti-contractions I am] bring our phones here [and really why would you when you travel? The chances that something might go wrong . . . oh wait] and the hotel telephone lines were disconnected during the incident [this is sounding more and more like a heist! Oceans 14 anyone?] So we have access to only email. [Thank goodness, because everybody knows e-mail and phones never exist on the same device for anyone ever]
Please I’m going to need some sort of loan from you [person I barely know] for us to relocate to another hotel close to the embassy [the embassy of fools] and also to get another flight ticket [of course you won’t mind if I fly home first class — I’ve been through an ordeal after all].
Those thieves [see, in my mind, a word a lot less friendly comes to mind than thieves, like jerks, a-holes, bad people] made away with our credit cards [I think this was assumed] which is why this can’t be resolved instantly.
We have been to the Embassy and the police here are not helping issues at all and our flight leaves tomorrow [Oh no!]...please, let me know if you can help us out?
I’m looking forward to hearing from you [I bet, a-hole hackers].
It would have been annoying enough if that had been the end of it, but it wasn’t. The hackers didn’t just send out that e-mail; they also erased all my contacts, deleted all my saved e-mails and set it up so that any incoming e-mails would be forwarded to them.
Once I realized the extent of the damage that the hackers had done, I was devastated and felt violated, as if they had stolen a priceless family heirloom.
I could understand the spam e-mail asking for money, but why all the deletions?
Some of my contacts were business references or people I never met (which was embarrassing enough) but others were friends I was estranged from. I wondered if when my ex-friends received this e-mail, supposedly from me in trouble, it crossed their mind, even for an instant, to help. Had I saved their e-mail address because I hoped there was some residual affection on both sides and that at some point we would come back together as friends? Now there would be no reconciliation. They were lost to me forever.
I had some saved items that I would have liked to keep forever: practical writing information, various passwords and log-ins, and my personal file that mainly had electronic declarations of love. I’d never get those cherished e-mails back, and the thought of resetting all those passwords was exhausting.
I had to make the decision to look at the hacking as a new beginning, and as a gift not a loss.
I would start from scratch and only get the contact information of people I would actually want to stay in touch with. I knew in my heart that I didn’t really need to have a file of old e-mails from past loves. It’s wasn’t like I didn’t have hard copy back-ups contained in a vintage lunch box.
All those saved e-mails and files were just electronic clutter. I had needed to purge them before, but hadn’t had the strength to do it for myself. In the end, I decided to be grateful that the hackers did it for me. Sure, it was obnoxious for them to send an e-mail begging for money, and it was annoying to have my incoming mail rerouted to the hackers (I guess they had to see if anyone was stupid enough to respond), and certainly it wasn’t their place to delete all my saved files and contact information. But their electronic purge made me see that I didn’t need to have all that stuff clogging up my e-mail program.
The memories that are worth saving have already been saved, non-electronically, and can never be erased.