Friday, July 22, 2016

Unplugging Is a Vacation

Last winter, Scott Adams posted an article--he's always witty, but the post sounded serious--about the problem of getting too much e-mail. I don't have that link in a convenient place; it was at dilbert.com. I do have, in a convenient place, Omid Safi's article on the same topic:

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/7023

Here are the thoughts I posted at dilbert.com, before "comments were disabled" to address a troll problem, and considered posting at onbeing.org, and then decided that, no, they belong here:

I find it helpful that my electronic devices just won't work at my home. Emergency calls from my cell phone have gone through, but in summer, most of the time, a call to a non-emergency phone line won't go through until I've walked halfway to town. At best a text message may get through the trees around the house within 24 hours. To plug in and work online, I have to go into town. As a writer I probably never completely stop working, since part of my brain is engaged with writing while I'm sleeping, gardening, walking...but I can only write offline while I'm at home.

It also helps that most of the people I know just don't use e-mail or text messages, and if we do it's only occasional, anonymous messages, usually along the lines of "I'm in parking lot A." Personal communication is done in person. Those of us who do e-mail, text, or chat do it for business purposes only. With Yahoo spam filters ramped to the max, I still get a few hundred e-mails a day, mostly about news items, published writing, or political campaigns. Those e-friends expect those e-mails to be read some time in the next few months; most of them don't expect replies.

This being the case, the best time-saving device I've discovered since the erasable/editable CRT screen has been my e-mail Bacon Folder. Most e-mail systems offer "folders" for sorting and saving e-mails. Yahoo has a Spam Folder, into which the spam filter directs e-mail that contains too many graphics or videos and/or contains rude words and/or contains suspicious links or spyware. To that I've added the Bacon Folder, into which I sort e-mail that I might enjoy reading if I had a lot of surplus online time. The first thing I do after opening the e-mail page is to file 75 to 90 percent of new e-mails in the Bacon Folder.

Here are some examples of Bacon:

* News items I might want to revisit, quote, or link to, after I've read them

* News items for which the headline is enough

* Invitations to things I'm not likely to attend

* Announcements of new books I'm not likely to read

* Petitions I read and decided not to sign

Once in a while, when using a computer that makes it easy, I go back and delete a few hundred e-mails from the Bacon Folder...everything filed there prior to 2012 has been deleted by now.

After sorting out the e-mails that go directly into the Bacon Folder, I'm usually down to one or two screens full of e-mails. On any given day there may or may not be an e-mail that really requires a prompt personal response. If there is, I read and reply to it first. After that I'm free to read through the news in the order in which it appears, and most days it's still possible to finish my e-mail in four hours.

This may not be the solution to everyone's e-mail burden, because many people apparently maintain close social relationships with people who suffer from extreme forms of extroversion and think the Internet is one more way to screech for everybody's attention now...luckily, I'm told by those who find it worthwhile to communicate with such people, most of them think e-mail is too slow, too formal, and they want to use "chat" features that pop up on the computer screen. Nobody who has either a job or a life has time for this kind of thing, or for this kind of "friends," and the sooner we let them know it, the better. I disable any "chat" features that any computer I use may have. When people really want to talk, more directly and intimately than e-mail allows, they need to get together and talk.

And, for the record...my online readership always drops in the summer and picks up in the autumn, although Google's making this blog available in more countries, this year, has offset that trend. This is as it should be. If you have a choice between going to the lake and reading a blog, even mine, the lake should win every time. The blog will be here in winter when you want to leave the computer plugged in all the time as a backup heat source.