Today's story comes from my upcoming book "The Sinking Chair and Other Tales of Office Horror" to be published shortly after I write it which will be sometime between now and never. Rather than make you, my dearest readers, wait for it to come out, I've decided to share the horrible tales of cubicle terror here, free of charge. I know, I know, it's extremely generous of me to let you read stories that won't ever be presented in any other form, free of charge, regardless of the fact that you'd never pay for them anyways. I'm just that kind of guy. So, without further ado, I bring to you a tale of email horror known as...
Reply To: Evil
Now, let's get one thing straight right now. This isn't some story about how I misguidedly hit the Reply To All button and informed the whole company about my love of midget monkey porn. My replyin' skillz be game tight. I be knowin' which buttons to push for reals. No, today's story comes from that deep seated well of fright that we dip into whenever we think that all of our correspondance, including the things that have been sent to us and we haven't acted on yet because we're lazy and we then can't ask for them back because people will know we're lazy, has been deleted. I think my next story should be about the horrors of run-on sentences because that last one was fucking terrifying. Come with me, dear reader, but be sure to get a firm grip on your sanity as down this road lies madness. Insert insane cackle here. Ha-ha, ho-ho, it is to laugh.
So we use Lotus Notes at work, which, from what I can tell, was spawned in the blackest pits of hell. Maybe it's easy to administer, maybe it's very secure, maybe I'm just an idiot and I can't get it to do what I want to despite spending hours poking through all of the various menus, I don't know why my company insists on using it, but what I do know is that it seems hellbent on keeping me from being remotely productive when it comes to managing my emails. With Outlook, if you found you were getting close to reaching your limit for space on the mail server you could a) create personal folders on your hard drive and store your mail there within Outlook or b) create folders on your hard drive and store your mail there from outside of Outlook. With Lotus, as best as I can tell, if you want to store your mail for longer than the company mandated 90 days you can a) archive it and keep it for possibly longer than 90 days but no one really knows or b) travel to an alternate dimension where something happened along the way to alter the reality stream and Notes is actually a useful piece of software. We're going to discuss my attempts at choice a.
Earlier in the week someone sent out instructions on how to archive email in Lotus. This person was discussing the instructions with a co-worker and I happened to overhear the conversation. In said conversation, the sender of info said that she sent out the instructions because she wasn't sure if people knew about the fact that the mail server automatically deletes any message on the server that's more than 90 days old. What now? I asked her what she was talking about, me having been here almost a year and never being told such a thing, and she repeated the statement. I take a look in all of my folders, and sure enough, the only messages there are messages dated 3/1/2006 and newer. All of my emails for the project that got put on hold in February, but they're bringing back this year? Gone. All of my messages I keep as a record that orderables I tested all last year and in the beginning of this year? Gone. All the messages I received from HR when I was working out the hellish details of my daughter's lack of health insurance? Gone. Gone, gone, g-to-the-fucking-o-n-e, gone.
At this point, I'm told that I can email the Notes admin and he can restore my messages from a backup, however given that this deletion has been going on for who knows how long, I have no idea which backup I'm supposed to ask for. I can ask for a backup from last month, which would give me things deleted then, but what about the things deleted as time marched inexorably forward to this, my day of woe? And why the fuck would they not tell us that? More importantly, if their intent is to cut down on mail server space, why would they not give us the means to keep our messages in some other form, somewhere they won't be deleted at the hands of that bastard, Father Time? Most of our projects last considerably longer than 3 months, so deleting emails that are 90 days old means you may be deleting information that you're going to need at some point in the future. Now I have a better idea as to why this company keeps making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over. They don't know that they've made them, because all record of said mistake has been deleted.
Armed with this crucial bit of information, I decide to archive my email, hoping that this will stave off any deletion. I mean, the point of archiving is to keep a backup, a record, if you will, of your email. Surely, once it's archived, it stays forever, right? I'll try not to spoil it for you, but I wouldn't bet on it. The next bit of my story is mostly my fault, as instead of being the good little worker I should be, and listen dutifully to the conference call I was attending, the call held partially in my benefit as it was in regards to planning the testing of my only project, I decided that would be a good time to archive my mail.
I had spent all day organizing the mail in my Inbox into nice, neat little folders so that when I archived them, they'd be all squared away. I follow the archive instructions and navigate through menus that make no fucking sense and get everything set. I then choose the "Archive Now" option and Lotus goes through it's demonic mechanations. When the archiving was done, I head to the archive, see the Folders option on the side-panel-tree thing and open the folders. Aaaaand I open the folders. OK, where the fuck are my folders? Where in the name of all that is good and holy are my goddamned folders? OK, OK, don't panic. The archive must have just not picked up things in the folders. I head back to my Inbox, open my folders and everything I spent the day organizing, including every email regarding the project I'm currently on, save for maybe 5 or 6 messages, is gone. Poof, just like that. At this point, I want to scream in frustration, but I can't, because I'm supposed to be paying attention to the call I'm on. Instead, I shoot up, like a prairie dog, and check to see if the person who gave me the archiving instructions is available. She is not. Shit. I then sit back down and endure the rest of the call, which ends up being the 10 longest minutes of my life.
Once the call was over I frantically searched for the person who wrote the instructions. Once I did, she read the fear on my face and was kind enough to come over and help me out. As it turns out, because I hadn't created my Inbox's folder structure in my archive, all of the messages from my folders were placed in another place. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to create folders ahead of time in an archive that isn't created until I run the archive process, which will cause problems because folders aren't created, but whatever. Now that I have the archive, I can create the folders and then spend another afternoon organizing all of my archived email. She then proceeds to show me how to up the time limit of archived email, as apparantly, email in the archives get selectively deleted after a set period of time too. Not sure what the point of that is, as the point of an archive is to have a historical record of things. I hope the Library of Congress people don't get wind of this idea. "The Great Gatsby"? Fuck that old shit. Toss it!
I then asked her what she does to keep emails that she doesn't want our fascist email overlords deleting and she says that she copies them into Word. Mind you, when doing so, unless you name the Word document with the subject line of the email, you have no way of knowing which email you've saved just by looking at the document name in Explorer. Also, how much fucking time do these people think we have to spend on this bullshit? Do you know how much time it would take to copy the body of an email, paste it into Word, and then save the doc with the name matching the subject line of the email? Not much time for maybe one or two emails, but quite a bit for the amount of emails you'd want to save when working on a project that spans half a year or so.
Now, obviously, this wouldn't as much of a problem if our development processes were mature and decisions were captured outside of email but that's not something that happens overnight. Also, I seriously doubt that this 90 day limit bullshit is something new, and I can tell you, it's done fuck all to encourage people to not have email be the only record of decisions when it comes to our projects. Plus, there are plenty of times I can see you wanting to keep a backup of emails for more than 90 days. Maybe you get praise for something in February, and you want to have it for when your review rolls around in December. Maybe someone sent you a joke that you like to visit from time to time when the crushing boredeom of your job threatens to grind you in its steely wheels. Whatever the case may be, there should be some way of not deleting every piece of correspondance you receive after some set time limit.
On the plus side, it saves me the time I normally would spend organizing my mail, because if it's just going to be deleted from the archive anyway, what's the fucking point? Hello apathy, my old friend. Come to sit with me again?
In the immortal words of Count Floyd, "Ooooh, very scary." I hope you can sleep tonight and aren't jolted into insomnia with visions of deleted emails scaring you as you lie in bed. If not, I apologize. Next week I'll try to not be so terrifying.