What is the state of your e-mail inbox?
At this very moment, I have 123 messages in my inbox. I can probably delete about a dozen after I read them tonight, if I am inclined.
My e-mail messages are a mix. Blockbuster, JetBlue and a few other vendors want to tell me how best to use their services and products. I subscribe to a few weekly or daily messages, and I am forever sending myself and every other poor soul I know a link to a news article I think they will want to read.
Do I delete any without reading? Absolutely. I also have politely asked people who spam me with love or luck or urban legends to refrain from doing so. (A few people have voluntarily stopped after I responded to all with a disagreement to their spam, and my sister nearly stopped talking to me because apparently a friend of a friend knew someone about whom the urban legend was absolutely true. The rule: if you don’t want my opinion, don’t send me yours.)
The idea of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” has prompted some people to turn off their e-mail ("E-Mail Reply to All: ‘Leave Me Alone,’" The Washington Post, 5/25/07). Granted, I’m not Moby who gets thousands of e-mails a day. (Hopefully the spam filter at work will be tightened so I won’t return from vacation to 600 messages in my inbox in a single week. My personal best was 921 thanks to a 2-day-long electronic disagreement between the servers at work and the Times.)
I can’t turn off work e-mail, but I can manage it. I work on a machine that requires me to refresh the screen to update my e-mail message list, so I refresh only a couple of times an hour and read only the pertinent ones immediately (and yes, some of my work ones are pertinent). I also delete without reading the ones of no interest to me, such as “Ford Tundra for Sale.”
At home, I don’t necessarily read my e-mail every day and I have no problem deleting messages unread, especially ones with a subject that begins with “FW:FW:FW:FW:.” I talk with my friends and family constantly, so if there was something particularly important, I will hear about it soon enough.
I’m not a Luddite. I love the Internet: how else can I find out what AP and the BBC think is important news or know instantly who is the father of Dannylynn Smith Stern? But I do know that a tool is only as good as its user, and I want to be a good user. After all, if I don’t, I never will have time to read all the books I plan to include in my book blog with Carole.
So before giving it all up, start making electronic communication work for you. Set aside the BlackBerry, unplug the laptop and decide for yourself what’s important. Those messages will be there when you get back — and if you’re lucky, any outstanding issues will have resolved themselves.