Clarity's Journal

Reflections on using a plaintext email client

I've spent the last couple months experimenting with using a terminal-based plaintext email client. HTML-only emails (or multipart emails with thoughtless plaintext parts) get converted into a plaintext-readable format using w3m.


I've come away with two thoughts: plaintext email is good, and terminal apps aren't.

The first thing I noticed is how thoroughly the plaintext conversion process ruins the appeal of marketing emails. All that branding and style is stripped away to reveal awkwardly layed out text and a mass of verbose tracking links, exposing it for what it is. Another layer of protection against propoganda. Meanwhile, emails sent from one human to another, or emails from your typical blog-like mailing list all come through largely unscathed. In fact, the emails often feel more personal, now that they're no longer dressed up in the clothes of some branded client application. Composing my responses in vim feels more honest and immediate.

See also: Branding

However. I've been slowly coming to accept over the last year that really just do not like the experience of using terminal-based apps. I rather like using my touchpad to click around, and I vastly prefer the feel of smooth-scrolling over line-by-line hopping. I've noticed that I haven't been as studious about keeping my inboxes tidy and following up on todo items since the switch, and I think it's the result of it just not feeling good to use the app.

I'm not sure where this leaves me! Maybe someday I'll write my own email client as a graphical application with plaintext output, but I've been trying to avoid programming at that scale recently in favor of more embodied uses of my time. Perhaps I'll wind up hopping back and forth between two different clients: plaintext for reading & writing, graphical for sorting, searching, and task-management.