The new Outlook's best feature: an empty inbox

Who can resist the lure of a new email address?

I don’t remember what my first email address was. But I know what my latest is, and it ends with That’s right: I’ve taken on a whole new Outlook. Not for any great technical reason, mind you. I just signed up for the latest web-based email service to come along because I wanted an inbox with nothing in it.

Microsoft’s new webmail service is a reboot of the venerable, badly outdated (but still dominant) Hotmail. It goes by the name Outlook, which many of us remember from the corporate version we’ve used at our workplaces for years. The new service has had good reviews, as rival Gmail, a Google product of which I’ve been a keen user, begins to sag under its own weight. But that wasn’t the selling feature, for me.

To be sure, the new web-based Outlook has a tidy design, and some features I may appreciate at some point. A million people have already signed up for it. This isn’t an endorsement, though. It’s a confession.

My first Internet session occurred over a 2400 baud modem, using something called “Kermit” to connect to a university server, taking over my home telephone line in the process. That was in about 1992. Since that time, I’ve had literally dozens of email addresses. Maybe a hundred or more. Crazy, right?

Those who work online will easily accept that figure: add up multiple workplaces and organizations, many of which offered several addresses (@macleans and @rogers, for example). Throw in the personal email addresses, some of which come free with ISP offerings and others of which are web-based: I’ve had Hotmail, Yahoo!, Sympatico and Gmail addresses, each in its time. Not to mention the addresses that come with computers, phones, and other assorted online-enabled equipment.

I’ve also had several email addresses for my own website (info, bookings, webmaster, etc.) and others for every .com I’ve owned. Not to mention the handles I’ve created so I could run multiple, separate blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for various groups, interests and entities. I’ve had email addresses whose only purpose was to post sound files to my blog. Somewhere I have a list of emails I created for fictional characters. I even blogged as my cat for a while. Well, who hasn’t?

All this might lead you to wonder why I guy like me needs another address. The answer is as depressing as it is simple: the other ones are full. Virtually every email address I’ve ever used day-to-day has become a virtual version of a hoarder’s basement, overflowing with crap that I can’t get rid of, continually threatening to overwhelm, if not destroy me.

Of course I don’t use them all anymore. Remember the Simpsons episode where Springfield is so full of trash, the whole town has to move down the highway? That’s the approach I take. I’ve literally abandoned past email addresses that were brimming with back-and-forths, overflowing with data, loaded with contacts—all in pursuit of the mythical “inbox zero.”

Some will tell you there are other ways to get there. File your correspondence carefully; delete regularly. Unsubscribe from things. Use your spam filter.

I try. Honest, I do. But it’s like trying to hold back the tide. On an ordinary day I get well over a hundred emails at my personal address alone. My Gmail at the moment contains more than 16,000 inbound messages. And I feel like I just cleaned it up.

So I signed up for a new Outlook address, thank you very much, Microsoft. It’s free (supported, as Gmail is, by contextual ads, although with some tweaks based on common complaints from Gmail users). It has some decent-looking features. And it’s always a good idea to camp on the address you want, just in case.

But mostly I love my new Outlook address because it’s pristine.

Please don’t email me there.

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