Rhodri Marsden: Boring emails that are the stuff of life

Unsurprisingly, my own collection of 23,549 emails over the same period is equally dull

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I always try to find meaning in things that appear tedious. I've spent hours studying the improvisatory skills of shopping channel presenters, and the way they talk at length about the merits of a pack of blank DVDs. Forced conversations in lifts fill me with glee, to the extent that I've wondered if I have the qualifications to become a lift attendant. But yesterday I stared into the true face of boredom, and it looked back at me, laughing, knowing that it would never offer me anything remotely interesting. I started reading Sarah Palin's email archive.

Why? Well, because I was asked to. Back in 2008, a request was made under open government laws by various US media outlets to gain access to Palin's work emails. Last Friday, some 1,000 days after the request, a 250lb stack of 24,000 pages was sullenly delivered by the state of Alaska. Which is a bit like a betting shop petulantly handing over your accumulator jackpot in bags of two-pence pieces. It was, apparently, "impractical" for the emails to be released in data form – the form in which emails, "electronic mails", originate – and far more convenient to wait for a printer to chug through 50 reams of paper. "Here you are," a note pinned to them might have read, "see how long it takes you to get through that lot."

Not long, as it turned out. The pages were scanned, digitised and placed online by MSNBC in a matter of hours; then it was just a question of crowdsourcing the task of trawling through them for newsworthy nuggets – one that was undertaken with relish by thousands, including me. In the event, I ended up reading seven emails, at which point I lost interest. I turned instead to MSNBC's search facility to look for specific words, one of them being "toilet", because I'm incredibly childish. It revealed an exchange between Palin and Erika Fagerstrom, the Executive Residence Manager of the Governor's House, about a malfunctioning toilet and Jacuzzi. Fagerstrom suggested that replacing the Jacuzzi might be a good idea. I'm sure you're desperate to know what Palin thought; well, she wasn't keen. "I think it would look bad to have a Jacuzzi ordered," she replied. "Somehow someone would find out and make a fuss about it."

How prescient. Had Palin obtained a new Jacuzzi and made a passing reference to her whirlpool bathtime thrills in a subsequent email, I'd be writing about Jacuzzigate. But she didn't, so I'm not. Even if she had, it would have been struck through with black marker pen during the 1,000 days it's taken for all the contentious stuff to be redacted. Like, for example, her email with the subject line "bullets", in which every word has been blacked out.

If a DVD box set of the recent Premiership football season had all the goalmouth action removed, it would make for spectacularly unrewarding viewing – and so it is with Palin's email collection. It's as gruelling as Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and doesn't even contain the phrase "Slough of Despond" to perk things up. Unsurprisingly, my own collection of 23,549 emails over the same period is equally dull. On 3 August 2007, for example, I emailed my car insurance certificate to Wandsworth Council. Whew. (Two days later, in an angry email, I referred to a colleague as an "arse", but I'm not going to mention that here. I'm not stupid.)

The treasurer of Sarah Palin's political action committee, Tim Crawford, applauded the publishing of these political e-memoirs. "Everyone should read them," he said. Don't, though. Don't even read the highlights. It's just a few smileys, and the word "heck". And when the emails from her last 10 months in office finally arrive, don't read them, either. Just take away one lesson: the permanence and traceability of email. Embarrassing notes that you dash off thoughtlessly at work will inevitably come back to bite you – unless, of course, you have a formidable team in place to cover them up.



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