Computers and InternetData Management

A missing email mystery

I had an unnerving computer experience this week that remains somewhat of a mystery.

At home in the living room on the evening of Tuesday November 24 I spent about an hour preparing a client email communication. I recall that I was pleased with this work; that it contained some innovative ideas; and that I discussed in non-specific terms the unique aspects of this project with my wife who was sitting in the same room with me. I wrote a note about the work in my daily log under the day’s accomplishments, which is my custom, and thought it was complete when I hit “send”. Apparently I did not send it.

A few weeks later the client called and wrote me that she had not received this message. I thought it would be easy to find in in the sent email log and resend it. But when I looked, there was no record of it. I use two email systems, Gmail and Outlook, and I searched them both. I also searched my PC in programs other than email. I thought about it more over the next few days and planned different approaches to the search. I used Google’s help article on advanced search to search through trash and spam folders. All came up empty. Likewise, I did the same in local and online email registers of Outlook. The local auto archive settings are set to not activate for six months. I manually combed through every email in every known mail log for the days before and the days after the work. All came up empty. In desperate last move, I went to a physical backup of my PC but at the end of that effort I still did not feel comfortable that I did the best possible job searching that huge archive data file.

I though about other possibilities. Did I use any other machine? (My iPad or a borrowed machine, for example). I considered the possible impact of Comcast service outage in roughly the same time period. None provided a likely explanation. Certainly I’m not the first person who even lost an email. But the more effort that I put into the search, the most disturbing the lack of logical explanation became.

I recall a situation a few years ago where I learned that a government email server had the capacity to retract all messages from the senders on its system even if the message was sitting in my Hotmail account. It was also disturbing because, in this case, the emails contained evidence of official wrong-doing.

How can a typed communication just disappear from a computer? I am left wondering: if this happened once, could it happen again? How can I prevent this type of thing from happening again?

As it stands now, I lost a few good ideas that were put into this email. I can likely recreate these even if the thoughts and memory is dimmed by the lost time. I am embarrassed with my client and I stand to lose some credibility but we will likely get past this also. I’ve put more than a few hours thinking about this problem and trying to solve the mystery. My faith in the presumed simplicity of email is shaken. But what really disturbs me most is that my inability to find a logical explanation now leaves me vulnerable to having the same thing happen again. I am left with a ‘twilight zone’ feeling of helplessness but determined to take whatever extraordinary measures to minimize the risk of suffering the same thing again.

At this point my best idea is to add read receipt to all outgoing messages and make a habit of checking this receipt log and following up with a phone call if a response is not received.

12/23/2015 – After a few days I concluded that the most logical explanation of my email problem was that I wrote a second email to the same person with the same subject line a few minutes later and completely overwrote the body of the unsent first message. This theory is strengthened by the fact that I do specifically recall the order in which I wrote the two emails. The only part that remains a mystery is why I did not find an automated email backup of the early over-written message. This probably has more to do with the automated backup settings and my search skills with a large backup file.

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