I have four email addresses that i use actively (one work and three personal), and through the course of the last 25 years have had numerous ones – think compuserve, aol, schools, different jobs, and different providers. My wife never quite knows what email address to email me at, and thinks this is all atypical.
I don’t think it’s so atypical for a person with my early intensity of network/ net usage. Perhaps the start of signing up for and maintaining multiple accounts was the various free Internet services – think hotmail, yahoo, and the forgotten mail.com and visto.com, and having to deal with small amounts of storage – 3 MBs (remember that!). Then there was the “commerce and list account” to deal with e-savers, purchases, and associated spam (before decent spam filters), gaming sign-on offers ($50 of free vitamins to sign up!), staking out your name on various services, and reasons I have perhaps forgotten.
Before my iPhone, where everything lands in a common inbox, I surely spent too much extra time due to the multiple accounts, but it made sense having the multiple accounts because the inboxes serve as my archive and different folks now email me at different accounts. That said, I think this was not typical for folks using the Internet for two decades but at a normal intensity like my wife. I am not sure, but I also don’t think it as typical for high-intensity but younger users (I think the distinction that remains is work and personal, which should be separated for many reasons). Otherwise, because things like spam and storage are much less of issues, and if anything, folks are trying to get less email or communicating much more publicly through Twitter, I would guess it’s not as common to have multiple accounts.
All the above is observation of internet behavioral changes through time, perhaps uninteresting to many. But it is interesting to think of our ability and behavior in signing up for email accounts in connection with the “real names”/single identity debate. (See my prior posts here and here.) Email providers could have taken the position that we should all sign up for email accounts with our real names (although you would have to come up with a solution to people with the same names), but they didn’t, and perhaps that was essential for people’s willingness to engage early on with the Internet.