My policy on email

I get a lot of email, I mean a lot — not as much as I did when I was in commerce, but still what could justifiably be called a deluge. Some if it is of my own making, most is not. Almost all of it demands a thoughtful reply, and each reply takes, for me at least, emotional energy, if the response is going to be more than the web 2.0 version of a grunt.

In addition to the volume of mail I get, emailers have increasingly imposed their own ever shortening version of response times on that torrent. Besides whatever they wrote, they implicitly say: I wrote you. I want, demand, will extort, a reply NOW.

Most of this is influenced by people’s commercial lives, in which instant response is the primary reason we equip the armies of business with electronic communications in the first place. The ubiquity of chat session, twitter, facebook status and the like, and what the IBM Research Labs used to call “Presence,” is the other reason modern society demands instantaneous authentication of our electronic bleatings.

I tried to resist, casually returning thoughtful replies to thoughtful emails in what I felt was an appropriate pace. But then I would get back replies that verged on the vitriolic, as if the delay of my reply obviated what I actually wrote. Some of this was from people who were once intimates and who should understand, so with that, I now say, enough.

Rather than demanding that the world react on my emotional metronome — the metronome of the dark ages, of say, seven years ago — I’m just going to declare, as many others have, that I am a bad correspondent. That’s that. Send me what you will. I will probably reply, but I’ll do it between my writing, when I can, as correspondents have for the past few thousand years. Since I am not in control of a nuclear missile silo, or an intensive care unit, or anything else requiring second-by-second, Jack Bower style, communication, I feel that this is an acceptable separate peace I’m making with the outside world, one that is well short of outright email bankruptcy.

Over and out.

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