Samara O'Shea

Caught Between Two Causes

My publicist sent me an e-mail the other day, and I noticed an addendum to her standard signature at the bottom. It was a note written in green accompanied by the image of a small pine tree that said, “Please consider the environment before printing out this e-mail.” Dagger through my heart! I constantly encourage people who know that they are never going to write another letter in their lives to print out e-mails. Even people who still do write letters should print out e-mails they find especially moving. I do it all the time. But I certainly don’t want to disregard the environment in any way, shape, or form.

I offer this compromise: Think long and hard about e-mails before printing them. In my days as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar the features editor would have me print out all of her new e-mails, and that’s how she preferred to read them. I suppose it was easier for her to think them through when she could hold onto them and jots notes for herself. I myself used to print out e-mails when my superiors would assign me a task. Then I’d throw each one away when I completed the job. These are the types of e-mail we should not be printing, and I’m guilty as charged. If you know an e-mail will ultimately end up in the trash, then it’s best to find another way to remind yourself to deal with it or reply to it.

The types of e-mails we should be printing are the cutes ones, the sweet ones, the funny ones, sometimes even the ones that are difficult to read. Any e-mail that summons an emotional reaction from you (any emotional reaction) should be printed and kept in a shoebox or a scrapbook or wherever you store your keepsakes. They will add up to being interesting evidence of your life someday. And the good news is, you’ve already done the editing. Forgive me for being morbid, but upon your death your children (or whoever) are much more likely to go through a box of papers than to spend hours on end going through your computer. Especially since there are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of arbitrary e-mails stored in our systems. If you’ve already picked out the good ones, the juicy ones, the exciting ones, then it’s more likely each e-mail will be read and forever appreciated by your family. Death aside, our computer systems are not fool proof. We save certain e-mails for a reason, and if the system were to crash and those saved messages were lost then we’d undoubtedly be disappointed. Paper has been around for a long time, and the letters our ancestors wrote outlived them as our tangible messages will hopefully outlive us. I hope the environment outlives us as well, and felt the need to state that my Print E-mails campaign is not a knock against my publicist (she’s wonderful) or the exceptional planet where we live and breath and have our being.