I Want To Be an Email Reprobate

One of my few role models recently called himself “an email reprobate.” That’s it! That’s what I want to be too.

He’d probably be horrified if he knew this, but then again it’s a virtual certainty that his history with email is a good bit less, um, mucilaginous than mine. (Isn’t “mucilaginous” the greatest word? In case you’re uncertain of its meaning, it’s what it sounds like — mucus-like — the perfect descriptor of my email past, where they can stick to me in most unattractive ways.)

That said, my email backstory is a mere nothing compared to Hillary Clinton’s — which gets dredged up ad nauseum. But today, at last, I read one piece that makes some sense of this horror show (Farhad Manjoo, NYT Oct. 19, 2016).

Why were all these people discussing so much over email in the first place? Haven’t they heard of phone calls? Face-to-face meetings in dimly lit Washington parking garage? Anyplace else where their conversations weren’t constantly being recorded, archived and rendered searchable for decades to come?

The answer, of course, is that email is as tempting as it is inescapable, for Mrs. Clinton as well as for the rest of us. More than 50 years after its birth, email exerts an uncanny hold on all of our internal affairs.

But everything must meet its maker, and for email, that time is nigh.

The sudden exposure of the Clinton campaign email cache is perhaps the ultimate evidence that we’ve all overcommitted to email — we’ve put too much in it, expected too much from it, and now, finally, we’re seeing the spectacular signs of its impending destruction.

Email is simply not up to the rigors of modern political and business life. It lulls us into a sense of unguarded security that it never delivers….

Email sometimes tricks us into feeling efficient, but it rarely is. Because it’s asynchronous, and because there are no limits on space and time, it often leads to endless, pointless ruminations.

[Note that the highlights are mine.]

Heaven knows email has had an “uncanny hold” on me since as far back as 1991. (It began in the BITNET era.) That’s 25 years of congealing bad email habits.

But the jig is up. And actually this post is the promised follow-up to my Email Experiment that began seven weeks ago.

In this time I’ve only received five emails that clearly matched my three no-no criteria. Two were judgmental, two demanding, and one opinionated.

In part this dirth is because of an unexpected change in circumstances. One of my major sources of problematic emails dropped away around the third week.

Yet even with so few, it’s been startlingly helpful. First I learned that with people I like and whom I know like me, still there is no need to respond to their more provocative emails. And as for the emails from people who as best I can tell don’t like me, my conservative estimate is that not responding to their demands saved me well over four hours of fretting over how best to respond. That’s huge.

So…. How do I change my pernicious habits? How do I keep up the good work? I plan to keep asking myself the same questions I’ve asked myself when scanning my inbox these last few weeks. Do I find myself wincing or do I feel my stomach tightening or my jaw starting to clench? If so, take a deep breath and see if indeed it is one of those no-nos. Then pat myself on the back once it’s filed out-of-sight under the appropriate label: blame/judgment, demand, opinion.

In addition I plan at the end of every email session to go back and review the emails I’ve just sent and ask the same questions. If I find myself tensing up at my own emails, hmmmm….. What to do? I can’t unsend, but hopefully I’ll learn yet more.

And then maybe someday I too will be able to say with a bit of a swagger, “I’m just an email reprobate.”