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Monday, November 03, 2014

The 'Unsubscribe' button (no, not the truth) will set you free

Remember when your email account was virginal and new.  Nobody but a few friends, and perhaps your family, knew your email address.  And any email that arrived in your inbox was something for you that you genuinely wanted to read.

Now think about your current relationship with your inbox.

It happens so gradually that one doesn't even notice it.  One by one, you are added to automated email distribution lists that send out daily, weekly and monthly junk emails, political emails, commercial emails, religious emails, conspiracy emails, joke emails... and on and on.  

Until one day you realize that the first thing you are forced to do when you open your inbox every single day is spend ten minutes deleting dozens (or on bad days, scores!) of unwanted emails that you have no intention of reading.  

If you go on vacation or take a few days off from your computer, it is not unusual to come back to find literally hundreds of unwanted emails waiting for you that must be deleted, one by one (lest you inadvertently delete an important email... the virtual equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater).

It is only after you've performed this onerous task that you can set about actually reading the email communications that are relevant to your life (or at least of momentary interest).

Some email programs allow you to mark unwanted emails as SPAM, and theoretically from then on, emails from those senders will be filtered out before they hit your inbox.  

That's all fine and good for emails that are truly SPAM, such as come-ons for discount/black-market pharmaceuticals that are meant to, ahem, enhance one's prowess in the bedroom or increase one's anatomic dimensions in the same realm.

But let's say you are getting 10 or 15 emails every week with Divrei Torah (discussions of the week's Torah reading), and an equal number of comercial and political emails letting you know about sales or discussing current events, etc.  

While you may not have signed up for them (and can't quite figure out when/how you got on their mailing list), to signal to the overlords at Google that these are SPAM would flag them to be filtered not just from your inbox, but from all Gmail inboxes.  

Unlike the Viagra and Cialis ads, I'm sure many of the people who receive political and religious emails every week actually want to get them, and I wouldn't want the good people who toil over those weekly missives to be tagged as spammers in the Google gateways where real spam is filtered out.

Same goes for the commercial emails from the likes of LL Bean, Amazon and Groupon.  Many people like getting those offers... and I know I ended up on their distribution list, not as part of some nefarious plot, but because I bought something from them and forgot to check (or uncheck) the box to opt out of future email offers (usually tucked at the bottom of the screen where you set up your account).

Like spring cleaning, it pays to periodically set aside all your distractions and spend some time  ruthlessly getting yourself removed from the email distribution lists you don't want to be on.

At the bottom of pretty much every mass distributed email, there is a sentence or two that looks like this:

Unsubscribe 1

or this:

Unsubscribe 2

You need to pick a day and ruthlessly click on that link to be removed/un-subscribe from the various emails you don't read.  The most expedient way to do this is to go into your deleted items folder and go through a couple of weeks worth of junk-mail; scrolling down to the bottom of each one and clicking on the 'unsubscribe' link (and then following the directions).

The first time you do it, it will be time consuming.  You may invest up to an hour or more doing it.

IMPORTANT: Make sure you read each screen carefully or you could accidentally end up removing yourself from only a portion of the sender's distribution lists, or worse, subscribing to new lists from the same sender.

After the first time you perform this unpleasant task, you will see that by the second or third day, you are getting almost no unwanted mail (and each of those you do get can be dealt with quickly in the same way I described above).  

After a week, you may see a small surge in junk mail because you forgot to un-subscribe from a couple of the email lists that only send out once every two weeks.

But that's it.  Once you do this, your daily email routine will be something you look forward to again, and not some hated chore that you dare not neglect because it will build up and bury you.

From then on, anytime you get a new unwanted email, be diligent to un-subscribe immediately.  Don't just delete it!

Oh, and if one or two of the emailers doesn't heed your request to beremoved/un-subscribed from their distribution list... go ahead and mark them as SPAM using the tool supplied for that purpose by your email provider.  It'll serve them right to end up on a universal blacklist.

The bad news is that what I've described above only works with email distribution lists that are done in an organized, professional manner  If you want to stop getting the monthly family update emails from your weird aunt Eunice (the one who subscribes to 'Fate Magazine' and who gets most of her current events updates from supermarket tabloids), you're on your own.  

If you don't want to hurt her feelings or cause a family rift... you'll have to continue deleting those emails manually as soon as they land.

Happy emailing.

[Don't thank me... I'm a giver!]

Posted by David Bogner on November 3, 2014 | Permalink

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Try using unroll.me - I've LOVED it and it has saved my sanity. It has multiple options for subscriptions - keep in inbox, unsubscribe, "roll up" (which is one email sent containing all of your subscriptions / coupons / dvrei torah / etc. that you can go through at your convenience)

Posted by: rachel | Nov 3, 2014 4:09:29 PM

rachel... I've looked at that, but what unroll.me accomplishes is the same as getting divorced but hooking up with your ex a couple of times a week. I'm talking about the emails you never want to get again. That, IMHO, requires a clean break.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 3, 2014 4:16:11 PM

UnrollMe not only bundles emails that you want to keep receiving, it also gives you a terrific interface for unsubscribing from a bunch of lists, sort of as an incidental feature. Best thing ever. Well, other than bourbon.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Nov 3, 2014 4:22:56 PM

I'm trying not to take it personally that you said "ruthlessly" not once but twice. Other than that minor failing on your part, I am touched by your sensitivity to those you don't want to brand with the scarlet "S" if it would remove them from everyone's Google account. How thoughtful you are!

Posted by: Ruti Mizrachi | Nov 3, 2014 10:26:56 PM

Thanks for the kick in the *** to do this.

Posted by: antares | Nov 4, 2014 3:17:40 AM

David,

In haphazard fashion -- that is, when unwanted email appear in my inbox -- I have unsubscribed. The screenshots you posted did not appear. What I saw was a link for 'Manage Subscription' or words to that effect. The keyword is 'manage'.

Clicking on that link opened a page that gave me the option to unsubscribe.

Posted by: antares | Nov 4, 2014 4:24:03 PM

Unfortunately, using unsubscribe on some spam will only make things worse, because it sends a message to the spammer "Hey, you got a live one!"

Posted by: Michael | Nov 8, 2014 11:36:29 PM

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