WASHINGTON, May 3, 2012 – Once upon a time, long before the beginning of the twenty-first century, you could go to bed pretty much content that the day’s to-do list was mostly done. What you didn’t get to that day you could do tomorrow.
Some people even said, “I’ll sleep on that,” on their way to making a decision. (Correction: their decision-making process.) Most of the tasks on a project could be completed within a specific time frame, and most projects had beginnings, middles, and endings. Even World War II, thank God, had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In those days, if you drowned, you usually drowned in water, and 1200 people didn’t get Tweets about it 10 minutes later.
Today, traditional boundaries between work, school, and home have all but disappeared. Now there’s no room to breathe, much less think. It never quits. We’re not treading water; we’re treading information. We can’t think; we can’t breathe.
We’re dry drowning. Dry drowning has many causes, but it always means you can’t get air. It means that, for some reason, you can’t breathe.
No Email? What a Concept!
I recently watched an interesting episode of the CBS-TV series, “Criminal Minds.” Dr. Spencer Reid, portrayed by Matthew Gray Gubler, is a baby-faced genius with three Ph.D.s, and a Supervisory Special Agent on the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia. Reid has an IQ of 187, reads 20,000 words per minute, and possesses an eidetic (photographic) memory. He’s been a main character on the show since 2005. But it was only last week I found out that the brilliant Dr. Reid doesn’t have email.
Oh. My. God. I spent the rest of the show with the phrase “I don’t have email” zooming around inside my brain like a crazed hummingbird. And I thought about life before email. It was pretty quiet then. Not a lot going on unless you opened a newspaper or turned on the TV.
And then, how fascinating it was in the late ‘70s to send and receive messages we typed on little white command lines with black screens on massive, wired-up, monolithic terminals courtesy of ARPAnet! How thrilled we were. The energy! The possibilities! Infinity in communications at last!
As time marched on, we managed our email with a combination of curiosity and pride. Hundreds, thousands, and then millions of emails grew and blossomed into AOL. (“You’ve got mail!). Around this one-time Internet colossus, other email services split and budded, spawning frantically like frenzied amoebas.
There were endless discussions, online and off, about free vs. cheap vs. features. Some experts advised (and still do) that people use several email addresses, each for a different purpose.
Persuasive, Pervasive, and Betrayed
Like a manipulative, smooth-talking lover, email insidiously invaded our life, our time, and our waking and sleeping thoughts. As a result, little by little, many of us fell out of control, out of love, and sometimes out of a job. Many of us have become not only slaves to the machine, but also the ghosts within it. This phenomenon is nothing less than dry drowning. And it’s happening to many of us.
How to deal with this abuse of our time, space, and inner life?
After a day or so of thinking about it—while my untouched email backlog built up like a massive intestinal blockage caused by bits and bytes—I finally decided, “I don’t have email” is not an appropriate response to the pressure. (I also don’t have an IQ of 187, read 20,000 words per minute, or have an eidetic memory. And I don’t play a criminal profiler on TV.)
Many of us have real-life friends with whom we like to keep in touch, and email is a great way to do it. I do business on and over and off the Internet. Email is great for that, too.
How to Prevent Dry Drowning
So here’s a starter plan. Two steps plus a sneaky third step:
- Allow yourself to receive no more than 3-5 newsletters. Drop an old one for every new one that you add.
- Set up an auto-responder with a message letting people know that you check your email x number of times per day.
- Follow the eleven useful rules for dealing with email posted by Dawn Foster here.
The bottom line? Supervise yourself. Control your email. It’s not a toy anymore. Like that voracious carnivorous plant Audrey II, it wants to be fed. But unlike Audrey, most email wants you to do a lot of shopping at their own Little Shop of Horrors.
Meanwhile, this writer is planning to pen a new ebook with loads of advice on managing or marginalizing your email tsunami to achieve the Greater Good. It will be available via email, of course.
Frances Ponick’s book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and is now available atAmazon.com. She coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert atAllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with Frances at Twitter,Facebook, and/orLinkedIn.
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