The 140 Character Email: An Experiment in Sanity
July 31, 2015
You know the email.
The one you’re dreading responding to—not because of what it says, but because the second you open it, all you see is A GIANT, LOOMING TSUNAMI OF TEXT lurching at your face as if the sender had taken the entire Sunday edition of The New York Times, reformatted it into one column, printed it off onto a roll of 1992 perforated computer paper, and then laughed as they lit it on fire and dropped it off at your digital doorstep—aka, your inbox—before prancing into the sunset singing, “Tag, you’re it!”
So not it.
As I indicated here, I think email is becoming a disease—a frantic click-of-the-button, monkey-brained obsession—and I think we can do better.
As business owners, as creatives, as people who spend so much of their life online, email is a necessary medium—and one that can be incredible when used correctly—but one that I do believe can also cause us all to go a little, well, loopy if we let it.
Why? Because it’s an open invitation to tap your brain, any time, any day.
And when the world has an open invitation straight into your brain, it takes it.
Next thing you know, you’re frantically trying to keep up with this digital box of suck—often feeling guilty if you don’t reply to the world right away, if an email goes unanswered too long, if you don’t match the sentiment or length of the other person’s email—and as a result, you end up using all of your creative energy playing whack-a-mole, trying so hard to “keep up” and “get ahead,” and reach “inbox zero”—which makes me laugh, and laugh, and laugh to imagine what that would actually look like.
For the record, I’ve never reached it. But, I think that’s precisely the point. None of us will ever reach it, and maybe we shouldn't aspire to.
Email is what’s called a Sisyphean task—the actual name for a task that can never be completed. It comes from Greek mythology (because what doesn’t?), referring to the son of the king who was punished by being forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and then have to push it up again…over and over forever.
Over the last ten years as an entrepreneur, I’ve grown to appreciate that email isn’t the only Sisyphean task—all of business is. And in many aspects, life, too. The work is never done—as much as you’re hoping for that light at the end of the tunnel. But, you know what? It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if you can learn how to be IN the tunnel without wanting to run out of there screaming and crying and yelling and pulling a blanket over your heard every day of your life.
What if, instead, of worrying so much about being done, we got better at “doing?”
Right now, we’re still acting like it’s the early 90’s (checkmate, that’s twice I got to talk about the 90’s)—even though the demands on our time are quite different. As email volume has increased exponentially for all of us, and all sorts of other platforms have been introduced, now we’re tasked with keeping up with not only our business inbox, but our personal inbox, our Facebook inbox, our Facebook wall, our Twitter inbox, our feed, our Linked In box, our Linked In feed…not to mention the other clown circus of text messages, iMessages, What’s App messages, Instagram comments, blog comments, Google alerts and not to mention those mysterious old fashioned things called phone calls.
And the crazy part about all of that—is that we’re actually trying to keep up with it all!
Is this not insane to you?
Why is no one talking about how completely ludicrous this is?
Why is everyone content to have ding after notification after alert ring through their eardrums, hurriedly rushing to their phones, their computers, their inboxes to try and push the rock back up the hill?
As someone who makes a living entirely online, I appreciate technology more than most. But I also know that good can become evil when it’s not managed properly.
As the rest of the world stays content with having their lives invaded by any and every stranger who feels like sending a request, it’s up to YOU to decide to what extent you’re going to participate. Because people, by nature, are needy. And if you let them manipulate your time, they will. It’s YOUR job to step up and actively set your own boundaries—or risk being trampled over by an internet full of individuals who are, frankly, all trying to do the best they can to get ahead.
We need to be more mindful. More mindful about other people’s time, and more mindful about our own.
We need to respect one another, in a world where disrespect has become the norm. Because the problem is not that the world wants to trample over your boundaries; the problem is that none of us have any, anymore.
So, I’ve made the decision to be proactive about my own boundaries, and get really clear on the ways I’d like to communicate with the world—and vice versa. And the biggest thing that keeps coming up for me?
It isn’t about shutting people out, but rather, using things like email and social media as helpful tools; not disabling crutches.
I want to live in a world where I interact more with people in person than I do behind a screen, and I want to live in a world where, when I am behind that screen, I’m happy to use the tools I’ve been graced with—email included—because it’s no longer an all-consuming, soul crushing ordeal.
And to me, it all comes back to brevity.
And the only way any of us are ever going to have the peace of mind we’re looking for?
Is to stop looking, and start asking.