Editorial: Winning the technological battle of the email bulge

It's not much of a victory, but I'll take it.

The promise of technology making lives easier works both ways. The newspaper industry, for one, has undergone an upheaval since the mid-1970s, with reporters using typewriters and ad builders doing a lot of work at light tables. Now everyone has a keyboard.

On reflection, one thing that hasn't changed is the value of taking typing classes, though I'm sure there's a different name for it now in high school. The key to a better life just might rest on being able to type 40 words per minute, or more.

The biggest change on the reporting side, aside from the fact that everyone can now be a reporter online (and I think that's a good thing), is the volume of news releases.

So yes, my life is easier because I don't have 10 or 15 letters to open daily to determine if there is any news value within.

The problem is that there are hundreds of people, institutions and businesses out there that never would have dreamed of paying postage on correspondence to the Kingman Daily Miner or the thousands of other publications in the country. With the cost of postage, they had to target who they were mailing to.

But now, friends, they can send their message via email to every newspaper (and to every darn email address they can get their hands on), and they can do it pretty much for free.

So instead of 10-15 letters, it was not uncommon to start a new day with more than 100 emails. And after my usual midweek "weekend," I'd return to my desk, turn on the computer, and weep silently as the number of unopened emails rose from 35 to 76 to 123 ... stopping many times at a point north of 250 emails awaiting attention.

That number would hang over my head like a cloud as the week marched on. I'd find myself spending two hours a day on email and still have over 180 unopened and needing attention when it was time to go home. I'd even do office email at home, with no visible impact. The problem was exacerbated by an email system that would gladly accept mail into the "Junk" folder but would do nothing about it. I could put 10 emails from the Sprocket Corndog-Making Machine Company in the Junk folder and get 10 more the next day.

(Conversely, some emails I'd never put in Junk seem to go there on their own accord. That's a different column.)

So, about three weeks ago, I turned my attention to the unsubscribe feature on much of the email. Since then, I'd guess I unsubscribed about 200 times and, to services that didn't have the unsubscribe option, I'd send back the email with "unsubscribe" on the subject line.

The endeavor was largely successful, one exception being Quark, the folks who built a computer program favored by a number of newspapers. To date I have unsubscribed from their sales messages five times. The last time (this morning), I unsubscribed and also replied to the email, pointing out my lack of success and asking if Quark had been involved in the disastrous health care roll out.

As an aside, it struck me as ridiculous that Quark would send me sales messages. I don't even make buying decisions at home, so I can't imagine who would trust me to make buying decisions at the office.

Quark aside, I have been rewarded with refreshingly small amounts of email this past week. I have won. I have let technology work for me. And I still use the unsubscribe button three or four times a day, ever vigilant in guarding against email box bulge.

A day without "news" about the GODIVA Trufflelata is a day with five to 25 more seconds (depending on computer speed) to devote to something else.

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned. Move along folks, nothing to see here. Go back to work and pay your taxes.

But nothing has changed. VA health care still operates on the big government model (an unwavering standard of inefficiency), with upper echelon administrators learning from the president that (gasp) they may not receive bonuses this year if they cooked the books to make it look like veterans were being seen in a timely manner. If anyone else loses their job (at least someone who wasn't planning to retire this year anyway) it will be big news.

So expect this issue of really crappy health care service for a lot of veterans to continue, but it won't make the news because government fixed it, don't you know. Then we'll play the same tune in five or so years.

A golfing buddy, back in the days when I still golfed and when he was still alive, told me he got fed up with VA care in Phoenix. So he went to the Las Vegas VA hospital and got excellent care.

"You ought to write about that," he told me.

I declined. This was shortly after Obamacare passed, and I told him everyone was going to be in the same boat in a few short years.

We're almost there. Some of us already are.

(Speaking of the Vegas VA hospital and inefficiency, it took six years and $600 million to build it, and it has a grand total of 90 patient beds. That ought to be enough to make any taxpayer sick.)

The solution to the VA mess, though, is getting as much of it out of the hands of government as possible. As I pointed out in this space earlier, VA hospitals and facilities should be sold, VA medical staff should be let go (along with several boatloads of administrators), and the veterans eligible for benefits should be limited to retirees on a pension and those who left the service disabled.

Next, give the remaining eligible veterans a boost in their pensions along with an opportunity to buy health insurance they choose on the open market.

I'll bet that will be a helluva lot cheaper than what we've got now, plus you'll never hear another veteran complain about long wait times.

Of course, that will only be true if we dump Obamacare. Otherwise, we're all going to get the same crappy care many veterans are getting now.

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If this column isn't up to par, I'm blaming Ricardo.