An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.” Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.
The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation. He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”
So, he suggests chunking it. He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”
I think he is crazy. Which is partly why I love it. But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed. As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”
Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live. In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”
Can you imagine such a thing? I can imagine. In fact, I can almost even remember.