I have a confession: I'm really struggling in the age of email.
I hate how email has transformed my work life. I don't know about your place of work, but the Inbox dominates where I work. It is the lingua franca of the office.
I've never been able to reconcile myself to this change. I do appreciate how email facilitates communication. But email has created a kind of supernova effect. By making communication so easy we've unleashed a flood. My sense is that we now overcommunicate. Further, the copying feature of email brings me into all sorts of conversations that only tangentially relate to me. But I still have to wade through it all. Add into this all the inconsequential email that fills up my Inbox. For example, after our family vacation I received an email from every hotel we stayed at asking how the stay went.
So I've given up. I'm tired. I just don't care about email anymore. Unless someone is dying or I'm about to get fired I hardly ever respond.
I exaggerate of course. But people who work closely with me know this is close to the truth. My faculty pretty much know that, as they have said many times, "Richard doesn't check or answer his email."
Here's the deal. I'm 42. I might live to, what, 80ish? Given those numbers I don't want to spend my remaining years clearing my Inbox. I want to live.
But here's the problem. The world expects me to manage my email. I'm supposed to sit down every day, read my correspondence, and reply. And it's this expectation that is killing me.
Here's what I struggle with. If you send me an email the expectation is that I'll look at this fairly quickly (within a few hours) and get back to you. But here's the thing. What if I don't look at my email but once a week? What if that's the way I choose to use the technology?
True, such a strategy wouldn't work for many of you given where you work. But can you see my point? Outside of places where timely email correspondence is integral to the work, there is a background assumption that everyone, regardless of the correspondence, is using email in this quick ping-pong manner. The expectation is that I'll read the email and get back to you within 24 hours or so (barring things like travel).
But what if I choose to get back with non-urgent emails in 1-2 weeks? What if I want to use email in that manner? What if that pace seems more humane to me?
My compliant is that I'm not allowed that choice. That pace is not the general expectation. The sender isn't expecting to wait for a reply in 1-2 weeks.
But why not? Just because they emailed me they are entitled to a quicker response? True, the email opens up the opportunity for a quicker response, but you are not, strictly speaking, entitled to that speed. The pace of my life just might be different. The Amish still ride in buggies. Cars exist, but the Amish don't avail themselves of that speed. For religious reasons. I'm the same way. I'm the Amish of email. Yes, email has made things quicker, but I don't have to speed up. I could, but I don't want to.
The trouble is, how do you communicate this to people? How do you say, yes, I have an email address, but I use it very differently. Unless the communication is urgent, I'm working on the timeframe of weeks. (Consequently, if I know I'm going to run into you within 1-2 weeks I might not respond at all. I'll actually see you, face-to-face, before I get around to my Inbox. You'd be surprised how often this is the case in my workplace. And if this is so, why can't we just talk to each other when we see each other?)
So I don't know what to do. Maybe I should just create an automated pingback for my email address:
"Thank you so much for your email. Despite general usage and cultural expectations, I tend to check my email infrequently and sporadically. I'll try to get back to you in 1-2 weeks."