Ben's Logarion ☪


Why I Love Thunderbird

The first real e-mail client I remember using way back when had to have been Thunderbird. As a kid in the 90's, my e-mail had always been delivered to me through AOL's desktop client. For all intents and purposes, that's just what e-mail was to me, though I longed to try the "real" thing like professionals.

I ended up getting that chance when our home Internet provider became SBC (one of the Baby Bells), and I got an e-mail address that supported POP. After installing Thunderbird on my system, I had a great time using "real" e-mail with my friends and family. I liked having a mail client so much, that I continued to use Thunderbird even after getting Gmail for the first time a year or two later.

Thunderbird also helped me a lot with my second job, where I worked in an office and had to manage the company's primary e-mail address. (I had to answer the phone too.) The volume of e-mail was such that it was a project to properly handle it all, and I can remember using a feature in Thunderbird to apply color labels to each e-mail based on priority. For example, I had one color for things that could be read later, things that were urgent or high priority, things that necessitated a response, and so on.

Over time I fell out of using an e-mail client due to the convenience of webmail and the hassle of configuring Thunderbird over and over every time I changed systems, which used to be a lot more fequently. Part of that was Google's fault because setting up Thunderbird usually required tweaking some settings to make it work right, instead of it being standard.

Eventually, years later, having started using Android devices, I had Gmail as an app on my phone and then began to ignore e-mail entirely. I would check my inbox when new e-mails arrived, but beyond giving nearly all of them but a glance, it just became a ritual and ultimately a waste of time. Last year I even deleted the app entirely and just checked my mail maybe once a week or less on the computer.

Then, something interesting happened. Recently after growing quite tired of social media and messaging apps, I began to look into various alternatives, particularly free software / open source alternatives to the ways I communicate or socialize online. After getting into XMPP and discovering some active groups of hobbyists and enthusiasts, I became acquainted with people (programmers mostly) who are interested in a more minimalistic digital lifestyle.

This resulted in me putting emphasis on two things in particular: e-mail and Gemini. For those who don't know, Gemini is like a modern (and experimental) reworking of Gopher, which you can think of as being something akin to the World Wide Web, but essentially just pages of plain text. A site is something that you read, not look at, and this encourages deeper and more thoughtful content. People create and write in their own sites out of personal interest.

You can think of this as "slow" Internet, contrary to the trend that has been for everything online to be "more": more instant, more engaging, more abundant, more visual, more superficial, more...

Somehow, the Internet has become more personalized, and less personal. However, we as human beings need to question what this adds to our lives beyond commercialization. What is the purpose of scrolling endlessly through feeds? We're just here to be sold things, yes?

Thus, I have rediscovered the brilliant utility of e-mail. There's no need for Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, or any such things (even WhatsApp) when you can just check your e-mail once or twice a day. Just something simple and plain like e-mail has the power to replace virtually all of these things for more meaningful, deep, and personal communication.

The natural state of the human being is to be offline. We need time to read, think, go for walks, watch movies, take naps, and other things. To be slow and disconnected is not how things are designed anymore, but we can still accomplish it by returning to some older designs.

So once again, after all these years, Thunderbird has become my best friend.