Here's a novel way to deal with the pile of unread emails currently causing you great inbox anxiety.
Are you one of those people with hundreds of unread emails embarrassingly weighing down your inbox? Or maybe you're like me and you mark all emails as "read" regardless of whether you've actually read them. Doing this helps you avoid a bloated "unread" number glaring at you every time you check your mail, but it doesn't actually take away that nagging feeling you get from knowing those messages are there. Eventually you're losing sleep about that birthday dinner invitation you've ignored for so long that the dinner itself has come and gone. Or you're avoiding social situations at which you might see that old friend whose email inquiring about your move you have yet to respond to. It's like a modern-day The Tell-Tale Heart, but with emails constantly thumping away in your psyche and dragging you down.
Enter ShameBegone. Started by two seasoned digital-media writers—Awl co-founder Choire Sicha and Entertainment Weekly senior writer Sara Vilkomerson—ShameBegone is a service for anyone who's been helplessly haunted for days, weeks, or months by unanswered emails turned inescapable burdens. According to the website, it's a service created so that "people who had left things hanging could deal with them." (Full disclosure: I write for The Awl but have never been paid for my work there.)
How it works is simple: You go to ShameBegone's application page and share with them the social situation you're having trouble handling. You also tell them what your desired outcome includes, which could be everything from "sex" to "friendship" to "revenge," or all three. If the problem shaming you is something Sicha and Vilkomerson think they can help you fix, they'll draft a letter of apology and explanation, which you then cut, paste, and send. The price for this service? You tell them how much you can afford.
Sicha says they've already had some customers, the majority of whom have very simple email shames like most of us. "It's like, 'Oof, I took a commitment and I totally bailed on them and now I can't even walk down this one street and uuuuuuugghhhh,'" he wrote in an email. "The first one I did was someone who had a long-unanswered email that was totally nice and friendly—nothing bad about the situation—but the shame came in with the five-month delay in response." That's the thing to remember about most email shames—at their root, they're harmless. But as time passes, their looming shadow grows bigger and bigger until they feel like they carry some tremendous weight.
Studies have shown that email overload is a real thing. And when combined with texts, tweets, and Facebook messages, it's not hard for a person to become so overwhelmed with digital interactions that they get behind on some piece of correspondence that will haunt them months later. It's a problem for a lot of people, and because the frequency with which we reach out to one another via computers shows no signs of slowing, it's likely to continue being a problem. That in mind, you might think twice before scoffing at a service like ShameBegone.
For one thing, this sort of outsourcing is what people with personal assistants do all the time, it's just that most of us can't afford personal assistants. Consider ShameBegone an ad hoc girl Friday out to help you for a day. Secondly, though a lot of technology has been invented to help us communicate quicker and more frequently, very little has been created to help us cope when all that communication goes awry. ShameBegone, with its sliding-scale fees and personalized service, might be one of the most forward-thinking start-ups yet. And if they can also figure out how to mitigate centuries of Catholic guilt, they might be on to a million-dollar idea.