EmailToolsAffectMyBehavior

By admin
Up until recently, I read most of my email with exmh, a graphical X frontend on (

N)MH
ORG

, and some of it with command line

NMH
ORG

tools. I’ve used exmh at work for a long time, and then at home from

early 2020
DATE

onward (when I started working from home a lot). Recent changes in my home Internet made using exmh from home less pleasant, so I started trying out the only other current (

N)MH
ORG

frontend that I know of, MH-E in

GNU Emacs
PRODUCT

. Initially this was only from home, but then I started using it at work as well, partly with the excuse of building up familiarity with it faster (and sanding off a whole assortment of rough edges faster).

Since both exmh and

MH-E
PRODUCT

are frontends on the same core of

NMH
ORG

, I didn’t expect my mail reading to be much changed by using

MH-E
PRODUCT

at home, although I did expect to miss several features exmh has that

MH-E
PRODUCT

doesn’t. To my surprise, things didn’t work out like that at all.

One
CARDINAL

of the most visible signs of the shift to me is that I’m back to reading technical mailing lists, after mostly stopping earlier. Another sign of the shift is that I dove into several historical ‘dumping ground’ folders and cleaned them out, and my inbox is probably more under control than before (I don’t keep my inbox empty).

Although I can’t be completely sure, I feel that I can put my finger on a few MH-E features that have enabled this.

One
CARDINAL

is that

MH-E
PRODUCT

makes it easy for me to get a large scale summary of a folder (including my inbox). Normal mail clients, including exmh, more or less statically divide space between a ‘message list’ section and a section for the message you’re reading. MH-E has this distinction too, but because everything is Emacs buffers it’s natural to expand the message list to take up all of the space when you’re not looking at a message, and then if you look at a message it goes back to the split.

A

second
ORDINAL

feature is

MH-E’s
ORG

support for a threaded message list display.

MH-E’s
ORG

threading is fast to turn on and off, and it makes it easy to blast through a thread all at once (or kill it, in some cases). Being able to see a thread in my inbox all at once encourages me to delete all of it at once if the thread is now closed and I don’t need to keep track of it any more, and the thread display makes these blocks of discussions much more obvious in the

first
ORDINAL

place. Threads also make it easier to read technical mailing lists (and to rapidly skip things I don’t really care about).

(

One
CARDINAL

reason to be slightly dubious that these features are all of the story is the well known effect where if you start paying attention to something, you tend to do it more and better for a while. There’s also the ‘Ikea effect’, where you have more affection for things that you’ve put together yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of putting together of my MH-E Emacs setup.)

There are definitely things from exmh that I still miss and that I feel make me less productive in some ways in

MH-E.
EVENT

But it’s clear that using

MH-E
PRODUCT

has changed my mail reading behavior in positive ways too, and far more than I expected. So this is yet another illustration that the specifics of tools can matter more than I expected, and small elements can have outsized effects (as can elements I discount the importance of, like a thread display of mail).