Tag Archives: email

The Ambition of Limited Access to Email

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Ubiquitous and constant connectivity has thoroughly reshaped our world over the last couple of decades. We are always reachable, personally and professionally — mobile phones, email and texting have seen to that. Yet, the automated out-of-office message still persists. You know, the email text goes something like this:

I’m currently out of the office and have limited access to email.

Yet, we all know that we can have unlimited access, all the time, and from almost anywhere on the planet. So, what do our automated messages of absence really mean? There are some suggestions that our absence from the connected world ranks as an indicator of status — the less reachable you are, the higher your status. Also, it’s quite possible that some of us use the rather lame excuse of communications service interruption as a smoke-screen for our inability to say no to the 24/7 demands of our work.

From the Guardian:

My favorite literary form of the summer of 2016 is the automatic email out-of-office message. When future scholars of literature reflect on the way that we wrote in this tumultuous, steaming-hot summer, what will they focus on? Perhaps it will be the way these utilitarian missives shifted towards a particular kind of magical thinking.
“I’m away,” these out-of-office messages say, dropping into my inbox one after another, “and I have limited access to email.”

Limited access wasn’t always our collective ambition. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when Wi-Fi was but a dream for the masses, I recall a television commercial that often aired during my father’s favorite basketball games. A tropical beach, a sleeves-rolled-up business executive kicking back with a clunky, black-box laptop. This was the exciting future of work: going somewhere beautiful but still being able to show everyone how important you were by bringing your 30lb ThinkPad, kicking back with a couple of spreadsheets and a piña colada.

Now, a generation later, with unprecedented portability, connection, we feel the urge to note our limitations, or the ones that we’d like to envision that we have. We are world-weary: with staring at screens, yes. But also with anticipation of how important we’ll feel when we look at our inbox after two, three hours away, note the stack of communiques at which we will sigh, with which we’ll reluctantly cope.

This is progress: the demonstration of status not through our ability to work wherever we go, but our inability to work. Our distance. Our ability to divide between the mundanity of day-to-day life and the sublimity of vacation. Our genuine and admirable devotion to personal time and space. Or at least our desire to have that devotion: our understanding that it is something to aim for. A wish.

“Limited access to email,” we write, wilfully overlooking the existence of smartphones, playacting as if every hotel in the world doesn’t place the Wi-Fi password in our sweaty palms along with our room key cards. We are aloof, too good to feel a thrill at the buzzing notification that our high school friend has posted a 20-year-old photo of the time that we all went to a water park.

Read the entire story here.

Image: No signal from here. Courtesy: the author.

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Those 25,000 Unread Emails

Google-search-emailIt may not be you. You may not be the person who has tens of thousands of unread emails scattered across various email accounts. However, you know someone just like this — buried in a virtual avalanche of unopened text, unable to extricate herself (or him) and with no pragmatic plan to tackle the digital morass.

Washington Post writer Brigid Schulte has some ideas to help your friend  (or you of course — your secret is safe with us).

From the Washington Post:

I was drowning in e-mail. Overwhelmed. Overloaded. Spending hours a day, it seemed, roiling in an unending onslaught of info turds and falling further and further behind. The day I returned from a two-week break, I had 23,768 messages in my inbox. And 14,460 of them were unread.

I had to do something. I kept missing stuff. Forgetting stuff. Apologizing. And getting miffed and increasingly angry e-mails from friends and others who wondered why I was ignoring them. It wasn’t just vacation that put me so far behind. I’d been behind for more than a year. Vacation only made it worse. Every time I thought of my inbox, I’d start to hyperventilate.

I’d tried tackling it before: One night a few months ago, I was determined to stay at my desk until I’d powered through all the unread e-mails. At dawn, I was still powering through and nowhere near the end. And before long, the inbox was just as crammed as it had been before I lost that entire night’s sleep.

On the advice of a friend, I’d even hired a Virtual Assistant to help me with the backlog. But I had no idea how to use one. And though I’d read about people declaring e-mail bankruptcy when their inbox was overflowing — deleting everything and starting over from scratch — I was positive there were gems somewhere in that junk, and I couldn’t bear to lose them.

I knew I wasn’t alone. I’d get automatic response messages saying someone was on vacation and the only way they could relax was by telling me they’d never, ever look at my e-mail, so please send it again when they returned. My friend, Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks, often sends out this auto response: “My inbox looks like Pompeii, post-volcano. Will respond as soon as I have time to excavate.” And another friend, whenever an e-mail is longer than one or two lines, sends a short note, “This sounds like a conversation,” and she won’t respond unless you call her.

E-mail made the late writer Nora Ephron’s list of the 22 things she won’t miss in life. Twice. In 2013, more than 182 billion e-mails were sent every day, no doubt clogging up millions of inboxes around the globe.

Bordering on despair, I sought help from four productivity gurus. And, following their advice, in two weeks of obsession-bordering-on-compulsion, my inbox was down to zero.

Here’s how.

*CREATE A SYSTEM. Julie Gray, a time coach who helps people dig out of e-mail overload all the time, said the first thing I had to change was my mind.

“This is such a pervasive problem. People think, ‘What am I doing wrong? They think they don’t have discipline or focus or that there’s some huge character flaw and they’re beating themselves up all the time. Which only makes it worse,” she said.

“So I first start changing their e-mail mindset from ‘This is an example of my failure,’ to ‘This just means I haven’t found the right system for me yet.’ It’s really all about finding your own path through the craziness.”

Do not spend another minute on e-mail, she admonished me, until you’ve begun to figure out a system. Otherwise, she said, I’d never dig out.

So we talked systems. It soon became clear that I’d created a really great e-mail system for when I was writing my book — ironically enough, on being overwhelmed — spending most of my time not at all overwhelmed in yoga pants in my home office working on my iMac. I was a follower of Randy Pausch who wrote, in “The Last Lecture,” to keep your e-mail inbox down to one page and religiously file everything once you’ve handled it. And I had for a couple years.

But now that I was traveling around the country to talk about the book, and back at work at The Washington Post, using my laptop, iPhone and iPad, that system was completely broken. I had six different e-mail accounts. And my main Verizon e-mail that I’d used for years and the Mac Mail inbox with meticulous file folders that I loved on my iMac didn’t sync across any of them.

Gray asked: “If everything just blew up today, and you had to start over, how would you set up your system?”

I wanted one inbox. One e-mail account. And I wanted the same inbox on all my devices. If I deleted an e-mail on my laptop, I wanted it deleted on my iMac. If I put an e-mail into a folder on my iMac, I wanted that same folder on my laptop.

So I decided to use Gmail, which does sync, as my main account. I set up an auto responder on my Verizon e-mail saying I was no longer using it and directing people to my Gmail account. I updated all my accounts to send to Gmail. And I spent hours on the phone with Apple one Sunday (thank you, Chazz,) to get my Gmail account set up in my beloved Mac mail inbox that would sync. Then I transferred old files and created new ones on Gmail. I had to keep my Washington Post account separate, but that wasn’t the real problem.

All systems go.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

 

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The Angry Letter, Not Sent

LetterMost people over the age of 40 have probably written and not sent an angry letter.

The unsent letter may have been intended for a boss or an ex-boss. It may have been for a colleague or a vendor or a business associate. It may have been for your electrician or the plumber who failed to fix the problem. It may have been to a local restaurant that served up an experience far below your expecations; it may have been intended for Microsoft because your Windows XP laptop failed again, and this time you lost all your documents. We’ve all written an angry letter.

The angry letter has probably, for the most part, been replaced by the angry email — after all you can still keep an email as a draft, and not hit send. Younger generations may not be as fortunate — write an angry Facebook post or text a Tweet an it’s sent, shared, gone. Thus, social network users may not realize what they are truly missing from writing an angry letter, or email, and not sending it.

From NYT:

WHENEVER Abraham Lincoln felt the urge to tell someone off, he would compose what he called a “hot letter.” He’d pile all of his anger into a note, “put it aside until his emotions cooled down,” Doris Kearns Goodwin once explained on NPR, “and then write: ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ ” Which meant that Gen. George G. Meade, for one, would never hear from his commander in chief that Lincoln blamed him for letting Robert E. Lee escape after Gettysburg.

Lincoln was hardly unique. Among public figures who need to think twice about their choice of words, the unsent angry letter has a venerable tradition. Its purpose is twofold. It serves as a type of emotional catharsis, a way to let it all out without the repercussions of true engagement. And it acts as a strategic catharsis, an exercise in saying what you really think, which Mark Twain (himself a notable non-sender of correspondence) believed provided “unallowable frankness & freedom.”

Harry S. Truman once almost informed the treasurer of the United States that “I don’t think that the financial advisor of God Himself would be able to understand what the financial position of the Government of the United States is, by reading your statement.” In 1922, Winston Churchill nearly warned Prime Minister David Lloyd George that when it came to Iraq, “we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.” Mark Twain all but chastised Russians for being too passive when it came to the czar’s abuses, writing, “Apparently none of them can bear to think of losing the present hell entirely, they merely want the temperature cooled down a little.”

But while it may be the unsent mail of politicians and writers that is saved for posterity, that doesn’t mean that they somehow hold a monopoly on the practice. Lovers carry on impassioned correspondence that the beloved never sees; family members vent their mutual frustrations. We rail against the imbecile who elbowed past us on the subway platform.

Personally, when I’m working on an article with an editor, I have a habit of using the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word for writing retorts to suggested editorial changes. I then cool off and promptly delete the comments — and, usually, make the changes. (As far as I know, the uncensored me hasn’t made it into a final version.)

In some ways, little has changed in the art of the unsent letter since Lincoln thought better of excoriating Meade. We may have switched the format from paper to screen, but the process is largely the same. You feel angry. And you construct a retort — only to find yourself thinking better of taking it any further. Emotions cooled, you proceed in a more reasonable, and reasoned, fashion. It’s the opposite of the glib rejoinder that you think of just a bit too late and never quite get to say.

 

But it strikes me that in other, perhaps more fundamental, respects, the art of the unsent angry letter has changed beyond recognition in the world of social media. For one thing, the Internet has made the enterprise far more public. Truman, Lincoln and Churchill would file away their unsent correspondence. No one outside their inner circle would read what they had written. Now we have the option of writing what should have been our unsent words for all the world to see. There are threads on reddit and many a website devoted to those notes you’d send if only you were braver, not to mention the habit of sites like Thought Catalog of phrasing entire articles as letters that were never sent.

Want to express your frustration with your ex? Just submit a piece called “An Open Letter to the Girl I Loved and Lost,” and hope that she sees it and recognize herself. You, of course, have taken none of the risk of sending it to her directly.

A tweet about “that person,” a post about “restaurant employees who should know better”; you put in just enough detail to make the insinuation fairly obvious, but not enough that, if caught, you couldn’t deny the whole thing. It’s public shaming with an escape hatch. Does knowing that we can expect a collective response to our indignation make it more satisfying?

Not really. Though we create a safety net, we may end up tangled all the same. We have more avenues to express immediate displeasure than ever before, and may thus find ourselves more likely to hit send or tweet when we would have done better to hit save or delete. The ease of venting drowns out the possibility of recanting, and the speed of it all prevents a deeper consideration of what exactly we should say and why, precisely, we should say it.

When Lincoln wanted to voice his displeasure, he had to find a secretary or, at the very least, a pen. That process alone was a way of exercising self-control — twice over. It allowed him not only to express his thoughts in private (so as not to express them by mistake in public), but also to determine which was which: the anger that should be voiced versus the anger that should be kept quiet.

Now we need only click a reply button to rattle off our displeasures. And in the heat of the moment, we find the line between an appropriate response and one that needs a cooling-off period blurring. We toss our reflexive anger out there, but we do it publicly, without the private buffer that once would have let us separate what needed to be said from what needed only to be felt. It’s especially true when we see similarly angry commentary coming from others. Our own fury begins to feel more socially appropriate.

We may also find ourselves feeling less satisfied. Because the angry email (or tweet or text or whatnot) takes so much less effort to compose than a pen-and-paper letter, it may in the end offer us a less cathartic experience, in just the same way that pressing the end call button on your cellphone will never be quite the same as slamming down an old-fashioned receiver.

Perhaps that’s why we see so much vitriol online, so many anonymous, bitter comments, so many imprudent tweets and messy posts. Because creating them is less cathartic, you feel the need to do it more often. When your emotions never quite cool, they keep coming out in other ways.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy the Guardian.

 

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RIP: Fare Thee Well

With smartphones and tweets taking over our planet, the art of letter writing is fast becoming a subject of history lessons. Our written communications are now modulated by the keypad, emoticons, acronyms and the backspace; our attentions ever-fractured by the noise of the digital world and the dumbed-down 24/7 media monster.

So, as Matthew Malady over at Slate argues, it’s time for the few remaining Luddites, pen still in hand, to join the trend towards curtness and to ditch the signoffs. You know, the words that anyone over the age of 50 once used to put at the end of a hand-written letter, and can still be found at the close of an email and, less frequently, a text: “Best regards“, “Warmest wishes“, “Most Sincerely“, “Cheers“, “Faithfully yours“.

Your friendly editor, for now, refuses to join the tidal wave of signoff slayers, and continues to take solace from his ink (fountain, if you please!) pens. There is still room for well-crafted prose in a sea of txt-speak.

From Slate:

For the 20 years that I have used email, I have been a fool. For two decades, I never called bullshit when burly, bearded dudes from places like Pittsburgh and Park Slope bid me email adieu with the vaguely British “Cheers!” And I never batted an eye at the hundreds of “XOXO” email goodbyes from people I’d never met, much less hugged or kissed. When one of my best friends recently ended an email to me by using the priggish signoff, “Always,” I just rolled with it.

But everyone has a breaking point. For me, it was the ridiculous variations on “Regards” that I received over the past holiday season. My transition from signoff submissive to signoff subversive began when a former colleague ended an email to me with “Warmest regards.”

Were these scalding hot regards superior to the ordinary “Regards” I had been receiving on a near-daily basis? Obviously they were better than the merely “Warm Regards” I got from a co-worker the following week. Then I received “Best Regards” in a solicitation email from the New Republic. Apparently when urging me to attend a panel discussion, the good people at the New Republic were regarding me in a way that simply could not be topped.

After 10 or 15 more “Regards” of varying magnitudes, I could take no more. I finally realized the ridiculousness of spending even one second thinking about the totally unnecessary words that we tack on to the end of emails. And I came to the following conclusion: It’s time to eliminate email signoffs completely. Henceforth, I do not want—nay, I will not accept—any manner of regards. Nor will I offer any. And I urge you to do the same.

Think about it. Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for. If you were, say, a Boston resident writing to his mother back home in Ireland in the late 19th century, then ending a correspondence with “I remain your ever fond son in Christ Our Lord J.C.,” as James Chamberlain did in 1891, was entirely reasonable and appropriate.

But those times have long since passed. And so has the era when individuals sought to win the favor of the king via dedication letters and love notes ending with “Your majesty’s Most bounden and devoted,” or “Fare thee as well as I fare.” Also long gone are the days when explorers attempted to ensure continued support for their voyages from monarchs and benefactors via fawning formal correspondence related to the initial successes of this or that expedition. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado had good reason to end his 1541 letter to King Charles I of Spain, relaying details about parts of what is now the southwestern United States, with a doozy that translates to “Your Majesty’s humble servant and vassal, who would kiss the royal feet and hands.”

But in 2013, when bots outnumber benefactors by a wide margin, the continued and consistent use of antiquated signoffs in email is impossible to justify. At this stage of the game, we should be able to interact with one another in ways that reflect the precise manner of communication being employed, rather than harkening back to old standbys popular during the age of the Pony Express.

I am not an important person. Nonetheless, each week, on average, I receive more than 300 emails. I send out about 500. These messages do not contain the stuff of old-timey letters. They’re about the pizza I had for lunch (horrendous) and must-see videos of corgis dressed in sweaters (delightful). I’m trading thoughts on various work-related matters with people who know me and don’t need to be “Best”-ed. Emails, over time, have become more like text messages than handwritten letters. And no one in their right mind uses signoffs in text messages.

What’s more, because no email signoff is exactly right for every occasion, it’s not uncommon for these add-ons to cause affirmative harm. Some people take offense to different iterations of “goodbye,” depending on the circumstances. Others, meanwhile, can’t help but wonder, “What did he mean by that?” or spend entire days worrying about the implications of a sudden shift from “See you soon!” in one email, to “Best wishes” in the next. So, naturally, we consider, and we overthink, and we agonize about how best to close out our emails. We ask others for advice on the matter, and we give advice on it when asked.

Read the entire article after the jump.

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Happy Birthday :-)

Thirty years ago today Professor Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University sent what is believed to be the first emoticon embedded in an email. The symbol, :-), which he proposed as a joke marker, spread rapidly, morphed and evolved into a universe of symbolic nods, winks, and cyber-emotions.

For a lengthy list of popular emoticons, including some very interesting Eastern ones, jump here.

From the Independent:

To some, an email isn’t complete without the inclusion of 🙂 or :-(. To others, the very idea of using “emoticons” – communicative graphics – makes the blood boil and represents all that has gone wrong with the English language.

Regardless of your view, as emoticons celebrate their 30th anniversary this month, it is accepted that they are here stay. Their birth can be traced to the precise minute: 11:44am on 19 September 1982. At that moment, Professor Scott Fahlman, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, sent an email on an online electronic bulletin board that included the first use of the sideways smiley face: “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 Read it sideways.” More than anyone, he must take the credit – or the blame.

The aim was simple: to allow those who posted on the university’s bulletin board to distinguish between those attempting to write humorous emails and those who weren’t. Professor Fahlman had seen how simple jokes were often misunderstood and attempted to find a way around the problem.

This weekend, the professor, a computer science researcher who still works at the university, says he is amazed his smiley face took off: “This was a little bit of silliness that I tossed into a discussion about physics,” he says. “It was ten minutes of my life. I expected my note might amuse a few of my friends, and that would be the end of it.”

But once his initial email had been sent, it wasn’t long before it spread to other universities and research labs via the primitive computer networks of the day. Within months, it had gone global.

Nowadays dozens of variations are available, mainly as little yellow, computer graphics. There are emoticons that wear sunglasses; some cry, while others don Santa hats. But Professor Fahlman isn’t a fan.

“I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that’s just because I invented the other kind.”

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Are you a Spammer?

Infographic week continues here at theDiagonal with a visual guide to amateur email spammers. You know you may one if you’ve ever sent an email titled “Read now: this will make your Friday!”, to friends, family and office colleagues. You may be a serial offender if you use the “forward this email” button more than a couple of times as day.

Infographic courtesy of OnlineITDegree.

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Is Anyone There?

From the New York Times:

“WHEN people don’t answer my e-mails, I always think maybe something tragic happened,” said John Leguizamo, the writer and performer, whose first marriage ended when his wife asked him by e-mail for a divorce. “Like maybe they got hit by a meteorite.”

Betsy Rapoport, an editor and life coach, said: “I don’t believe I have ever received an answer from any e-mail I’ve ever sent my children, now 21 and 18. Unless you count ‘idk’ as a response.”

The British linguist David Crystal said that his wife recently got a reply to an e-mail she sent in 2006. “It was like getting a postcard from the Second World War,” he said.

The roaring silence. The pause that does not refresh. The world is full of examples of how the anonymity and remove of the Internet cause us to write and post things that we later regret. But what of the way that anonymity and remove sometimes leave us dangling like a cartoon character that has run off a cliff?

For every fiery screed or gushy, tear-streaked confession in the ethersphere, it seems there’s a big patch of grainy, unresolved black. Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.

“The Internet is something very informal that happened to a society that was already very informal,” said P. M. Forni, an etiquette expert and the author of “Choosing Civility.” “We can get away with murder, so to speak. The endless amount of people we can contact means we are not as cautious or kind as we might be. Consciously or unconsciously we think of our interlocutors as disposable or replaceable.”

Judith Kallos, who runs a site on Internet etiquette called netmanners.com, said the No. 1 complaint is that “people feel they’re being ignored.”

More from theSource here.

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