Title text: Rome's declaration of war against Carthage was sent from a no-reply address, so Hannibal had to cross the Alps to deliver his "UNSUBSCRIBE" response in person.
Email differs from "snail" mail, in that people often expect a prompt reply. Replying to an email may lead to another email response, thus leading to a "loop" of constant replies and responses. Since an individual email is quick and cheap to send, people send lots of them. Thus people get a lot of emails, and may spend a large portion of their day dealing with email.
Megan observes that maybe the Romans got a lot done because they did not spend time on email. In doing this she plays on the email handling strategy named Inbox Zero, which they might not have had because the Roman number system had no symbol for zero. This is of course redundant, as email did not exist at the time.
Inbox Zero is an approach to email inbox management espoused by Merlin Mann, with the idea that people should spend as little time as possible in their email inbox. To achieve this, one should check one's inbox as few times as practical, and quickly deal with all new emails by deleting, delegating, sending a short reply where possible or categorizing them for later tasks. Basically it's a continuation of the "touch it once" strategy for dealing with physical mail.
The ancient Romans are one of the model historical societies, well revered for their culture and life. A common misconception is that Romans did not have a concept of the number zero. The Romans were aware of the concept of zero, but there is no numeral for 0 in the Roman numeral system, as Roman numerals do not have place values like Arabic numerals. A value of ten or greater is represented in Arabic numerals using 0 as a placeholder for empty place values. Roman numerals do not have such a placeholder digit, and so did not have a numeral for zero; the word nulla was used to refer to "zero" in the sense of "nothing". Various sources indicate that this eventually gave use to N as a Roman numeral for "zero", and such is the case for modern users of Roman numerals.
The title text refers to Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, a famous military campaign by Hannibal against the Romans. Randall claims that Hannibal needed to invade Rome to tell them to stop sending him so many emails. The reason for this was that Rome's email was sent from a "no-reply" email address, so Hannibal had no way of replying by email, and had to tell them in person. The real reason for Hannibal to cross the Alps was because he wanted to conquer Rome. He did not conquer Rome, so he never sent his "unsubscribe" message.
- This is not the first time Randall has imagined strange "unsubscribe" messages; see 1675: Message in a Bottle.
- [Megan and Cueball are sitting at a desk, facing each other, each working on their laptop computers.]
- Megan: Answering email is the worst. It just leads to getting more email.
- Cueball: Yeah, email is a trap.
- [Beat panel.]
- [Megan looks up from her work on the computer.]
- Megan: I bet the reason the Ancient Romans got so much done was that they had no concept of Inbox Zero.
- Cueball: That explains it.
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