I signed up for my Hotmail account in 1998, back when the free Web-based mail service was relatively new. The service had just been purchased by Microsoft when I signed up for it, and Microsoft hadn’t yet rebranded Hotmail to make it into MSN Anything or MSN Live Anything-else. It was just Hotmail. It had about a million users and I basically had my pick of usernames — I even had a four-character password, something that would (and should) never be allowed these days.
I mention this because that old account, along with my university-issued address, was my first e-mail account. My very first. Sure, I’ve had many since then, including accounts at Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, Gmail and others (all using the same username, by the way), but that initial Hotmail account stands out in my mind, a demarcation between my life before the Web and everything else. It was a big deal.
So why bring this all up now? Because I’m considering canceling my Hotmail account, that’s why. Yes, the account that has been with me for a decade, the account that served me so well back when I was on a 24.6 kbps modem connection, the account that served me through the e-mail boom (when everyone in my high school got e-mail accounts at the same time and when I was getting around 130 forwards per day in my inbox)… that account, my seminal account, might just die.
To be fair, it’s dead already. Once crippled by spam, the Hotmail account now sits atrophied by disuse. Even the spammers have basically forgotten that it exists, as there has been no traffic out of the account in more than two years. Why should I use that old Hotmail thing, after all? I’ve got Gmail now, and Gmail rules supreme. And there’s another thing. Remember that university-issued address? That’s still with me. I use it every day; I install spam filters galore to keep it alive and working. That one’s saveable.
But I am willing to let Hotmail die, die for real. Die the final death, the “Close Account” death.
Or am I? There’s a certain amount of sentimentality attached to that first account. Plus, there’s the off chance that some other jackass might register that account name and sully my avatar’s good reputation around the Web. And what harm is there in keeping it? It’s just electrons sitting on someone else’s server, somewhere in the world. Why should I delete it?
I’m straddling a border here. On one side I have digital freedom, an uncluttered past. On the other side, I have the beginnings of a life lived as a digital pack rat — the very life that Gmail and these other mega-storage-with-search mail services encourages us to live. Do I want to live that way? Is this more than a sentimental question? Is this a philosophical question too?