the email interface

i wrote about email a while back, but i've lost that article, and it probably wasn't great, so here's a new version.

a lot of people don't like email. that's because the modern email ecosystem is not great. fortunately, an ecosystem problem can be rectified quite successfully on a personal scale. the underlying interface is very pleasant.

what is an email message? essentially it is a body of text which comes from somewhere, goes somewhere else, at a particular time. mail suits this abstraction well. the nature of email means that messages are usually longer form, and also that there is no need to reply straight away. (often these days emails are followed up with instant messages telling you to check your email, but this is a culture problem. admittedly it's quite problematic, and harder to avoid than things like spam).

but mail is not the only thing that suits this abstraction. weather reports come from somewhere (the weather server), go somewhere else (to you), at a particular time (without the time, the report would be quite unhelpful). news comes from somewhere (a room full of journalists), goes somewhere else (to you again!), at a particular time (it wouldn't be new if the time wasn't now). calendar reminders come from somewhere (your diary), go somewhere else (still you!), at a particular time (just before the event).

some emacs users like to talk about moving all their text manipulation into emacs, so that they can use the same abstractions on all the text manipulate. i think that this is admirable. emacs has interfaces to calendars, mail, news, and weather. that's a start, but each of them still has a different set of keybindings to learn, a mental shift to get around.

emacs has a selection of interfaces to mail, depending on how much complexity you want, and how you prefer to interact with it. what if we were to use a single one of these interfaces for all of our mail-like tasks? well, that's what i do.