On Unsubscribing

For years I’ve kept a couple of secondary email addresses for e-newsletters, website signups, and other things that require an email address but that don’t really belong in the inbox I use to run my business. I’ve let these addresses —  free accounts from the usual big online players — get clogged with messages that are not quite spam but that typically get deleted without being read.

Starting today I’m going to try something that seems daring in my cautious online world. I’m going to unsubscribe from* some of those newsletters and websites.

It’s daring (to me) because I have held fast to what used to be conventional wisdom: That clicking the “Unsubscribe” button is actually a notification to the sender that they’ve reached a real, live person. And worse, is a signal that they might want to send more messages to a given address. I no longer believe that, at least for legitimate senders. (I’m about two years behind David Pogue in coming to this realization.)

What changed my mind? I spent a few hours this last weekend setting up a MailChimp account for a nonprofit I serve. (MailChimp is a well-regarded low-cost email marketing service.)  I saw the safeguards and checks and balances that the MailChimp service requires, and the explanations about why they exist. I believe that, for legitimate email marketers, the CAN-SPAM Act really works.

Of course, the key phrase in that last sentence is ” legitimate email marketers.” Stuff that’s obvious spam I will continue to delete, rather than try in vain to unsubscribe. Actually, the automatic filters provided by my email providers do a pretty good job on that stuff already.

* Language nerds: One subscribes to something, and unsubscribes from it, right? That’s almost poetic.