The American government knows absolutely everything about you. Let’s just all conclude this now, shall we, instead of letting that harrowing realisation dawn on us gradually, with every fresh document leaked by Edward Snowden? It’ll save us all time if we just imagine that everything which passes through our in and outboxes is BCCed firstname.lastname@example.org.
I assume this post is getting scooped up by some kind of NSA auto-web-searching drone, by the way, so – hello, spooks! I’m extremely harmless. But you’ve probably already concluded that.
(By the way, if you visit the National Security Agency’s website, you will discover that they are promoting Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Which doesn’t mention that the biggest threat of people breaking into your most personal material could well originate within their very own organisation.)
Today’s revelation is that the NSA can monitor pretty well everything you do with the likes of Google and Yahoo by scooping it up at the point between Google’s private cloud of servers and the public internet – the point where, in the diagram in that last link, there’s a little hand-drawn smiley face which struck fear into my heart, as though it were carved into a Halloween pumpkin.
So, since the spooks know all me already, I’ve decided that I may as well come clean and tell everyone. So, here are the five most embarrassing kinds of emails on my server.
1) Emails about work that resulted in no work
Is there anything more galling than a politely-worded form rejection email after a job application? Your hopes are dashed in sterile bureaucratic language, and they use phrases like “regrettably”, “at this time” and “due to an overwhelming amount of interest” in an effort to mask the underlying message: that you aren’t good enough.
Well yes, there is – an email where you’re told your services are no longer required. Most companies will have the decency to fire you in person, of course – but when you’re a freelancer, sometimes you just get an email. I’ve got a few of those sitting in my archive as well. Generally they mention the desire to come up with a “new direction”, but what they’re really saying is “we’re planning to go in any direction but you.”
2) The audit trail from ill-advised online purchases
That DVD of a movie by renowned auteur Wong Kar-wai that you bought off eBay for an amazingly cheap price that turned to be recorded on a camcorder in a cinema? That hilarious t-shirt you bought that never fit because you said you were an L when in fact you are clearly an XL, if not an XXL? And, especially in my case, the mobile phone attachment you ordered but never used before the phone became obsolete?
The electronic records of every single one of these purchases will sit in your inbox forever, long after you’ve consigned the item to the bin or given it to someone you don’t much like for Christmas. I should have gotten a refund at the time, but now there’s no taking back my shame.
3) Failed attempts at flirtation
If the NSA agents were to search my email or Facebook accounts using the term “catch up”, they would discover many emails exchanged with members of the opposite sex in which I, unsuccessfully, attempted to hang out with them by trying to take advantage of the fig-leaf of friendliness.
The particular tragedy of the “conversation” view that prevails in messaging services nowadays is that you can see the whole of the email exchange, from the initial hope to the moment where is sputters and dies, along with your dreams. Almost all of them end up with me saying something like “yeah, great, let me know when you’re free”, to which the person replies something like “Cool, will do”, and then never does.
In the moment, they’re letting you down kindly – but read together, they form a fairly dispiriting pattern.
On rare occasions, such emails actually resulted in physical meetings, which invariably ended in nothing more physical than that. But those embarrassing conversations, thankfully, are not to be found in my email account.
4) Emails from internet dating services
Surprising as it may seem, there’s a level below email rejection from actual people you know, and it is this. You never get an email from an internet dating website that actually has a message from another human being, of course. That wouldn’t get them as many clicks as if you logged in. So instead they’ll say something like “You have received a message from ridiculouspsedonym6969”, and you’ll have to log in to discover you don’t have anything remotely in common with whoever ridiculouspseudonym6969 is, and that they look like they have no sense of humour, terrible taste (often expressed via an overfondness for pink), or a major personality disorder – and sometimes two or even three of the items on this list.
After this happens fifteen or so times, you’ll learn not to get your hopes up. But until then, every fresh arrival in your inbox is another impossible dream.
5) Emails you forgot to reply to
As embarrassing as the electronic records of failed romances are, the emails that most embarrass me are the lovely ones I never replied to because I got distracted, or was busy, or just didn’t have my act together. Every single one of them is a reproach, an electronic proof that I’m a thoughtless, disorganised jerk.
Occasionally there’s a reply from me months later saying “Oh hi, so sorry, this somehow slipped through the cracks,” or worse still, I might blame the spam filter. The real reason is – well, sometimes I’m a bad person who probably deserved all the rejection he received in point #3.
So there you have it, National Security Agency. These are the worst electronic records you could possibly uncover. So, do your worst, you can’t hurt me any more. Unless you release that one incriminating email I sent to an ex where I told her how I wanted to m /// THIS REST OF THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN DELETED BY THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY. NOT BECAUSE IT POSES ANY THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY, JUST BECAUSE IT’S EXTREMELY SAD.