Category Archives: no email

Alternatives to sending electronic mail; alternatives to receiving electronic mail

The weekend is a low email diet, but somehow that's difficult to do without explaining myself a little bit. Here's some thoughts as to how I might do things the next time that I work through the world of weekend time, how I can get some more effective communications rather than just more frequent.

Short asynchronous private message. A Twitter direct message works nicely for this, as does an SMS message. Email is better for short messages when you keep your subject and text short enough that the reader can see it all in their preview window.

Short asynchronous public message. Twitter and Facebook both do a credible job of public messaging, though it all depends on what you mean by public. Email to a mailing list is reasonably public, sometimes, though sometimes people believe that it's private and get surprised by email leaking. My favorite public format is the blog post, but I think that's a sign of age; so few people use weblogs the way that I do that I feel like I'm from another planet. 

Short synchronous private messages. A rapid burst of SMS messages works neatly, and is how this usually works for me when doing last-minute schedule coordination by text message. Email is never synchronous, though it seems that way at times, and you don't have anything like guaranteed delivery.

Short synchronous public message. If I had to do this I'd say IRC, except I hate that system most of the time. A twitter hash tag is very similar to IRC. I'm told that LiveJournal deals well with this use case, for situations where you want real-time tracking of comments across multiple forums. I can't think of an email application where this fits.

Long asynchronous private message. This is one of the things that electronic mail can do well, and that most other online messaging systems do worse. I see a way to handle the world to reduce these by taking the positive versions of these and sending them out on paper, e.g. as postcards. If you can get documents out of long messages and into some kind of version control system or wiki, you can avoid the path of version skew as everyone shovels weirdly-named drafts at each other.

Long asynchronous public message. You're looking at it; my blog is where I need to be writing more when it's time to put something into the world that might have use in the indefinite future.

Recovering from a spell of no email, and starting a new one

"Sisyphus had it easy."

I'll be off email starting Friday night and continuing to Sunday night; the second weekend in a row of a "no email" weekend. It wasn't quite 100% offline the first weekend, since I'm so addicted, but I made a point of not clicking on any messages in my inbox and not sending any mail.

Part of the plan for not doing email is making sure that at the end of the time you can recover gracefully and not feel overwhelmed. This meant dealing with an entire boatload of messages all at once, processing a weekend's worth of mail in a Sunday evening. That's hardly fun, but it beats the alternative of working the email treadmill all weekend long.

The biggest thing I managed to do was slow down the rate of messages into my inbox at least a little by identifying one mailing list that I really like that I just don't have the time to follow right now. It all by itself generates 20-40 messages a day, and even if those only take a few seconds to skip over, it's too much of a burden of diligence to stay on top of it. 

I also realized that I don't have secondary or tertiary communications paths to everyone who is in my inbox. I don't know everyone's phone number, I'm not sure I'm Facebook friends with them, they might or might not use Twitter, and many times I don't have a postal address. I'd love to be able to say that for everyone who mattered I had three ways to signal them, just in case there was some need to be persistent to get a message through. 

No email for the weekend

I've updated my email vacation message to inform my correspondents that I'm taking the weekend off from electronic mail. If you get some message to that effect, you know how to get ahold of me.

I envy those with enough status to completely exit electronic mail, but at the very least I expect that an occasional weekend could be email-free.

Some background:

Paul Jones has given up on email, in his #noemail project.

Peter Honeyman is behind on reading his email. Aren't we all?

Tumblr CEO David Karp notices that "if you're not responsive to e-mail, it trains people to leave you alone."

John Freeman rants against the tyranny of email, in book length form.

In 2010, Nathaniel Borenstein told CIO magazine that email was not dead

In 2003, E-mail is broken was a Salon.com headline. Jacob Nielsen "stopped using e-mail and hired staff to do it for me." It was a bad year for spam, and Joi Ito pronounced email officially broken.

Don Knuth has been happy since he gave up email in 1990 after 15 years of use.