Help me. I'm drowning. Drowning in emails. Each day a new tsunami of sometimes meaningful, mostly useless, trivial, occasionally important and often spammy correspondence washes ashore on my laptop like ocean detritus, and it's my job to pick through it. My friends are even hawking Viagra, although some claim their addresses were "hacked." Times are tough.
All of this emailing is designed to keep me from real human interaction. And so I go about my day like I'm playing a Chucky Cheese arcade game of Whack-a-Mole. Knock one email back and two others pop up. Oprah, Deepak -- help! How can I live in the moment? How can I even get outside my house?
It's so quaint to think that in college I typed my papers on a manual typewriter. Liquid paper saved me. Of course, I'm the same generation that had a "smoking section" on airplanes. Let's really think about that -- like you were "protected" in row 9 if the smoking section started at 10. We all walked off those flights smelling like the human ashtrays in "Mad Men."
Back yonder when people sent letters (now quaintly referred to as snail mail), no one could reach you at all times. Phones were attached to walls, and cords had to be dragged into bedrooms for private, hushed convos. The dreaded mental condition of "email anxiety" had not yet been invented. This is the social media equivalent of constipation, of knowing your emails and texts are backed up. No wonder we are all walking around like we have an anvil on our backs, plinking at our devices, head down, oblivious to the blue sky and sunshine. Somehow it's imperative that we answer RIGHT NOW -- right at the restaurant, right in the middle of the coffee break, just as we are boarding the train. Why bother to go out at all? We all live a life continually undone, perpetually waiting for a reply.
Increasingly common is the sight of two young people dining out, each muted and bent by "BlackBerry hunch." That's just downright sad -- sadder than two old people chewing quietly with nothing to say at a Denny's buffet.
Some of you are asking, why can't you take a day or two or three and just not look at emails? Lay down your devices, you say. That's called a wilderness vacation. But to just do this in the midst of a workweek is a pretty tough thing to accomplish. And it has serious payback ramifications. Perhaps you can relate to the feeling of having gone out on a great date with your spouse or partner. You turn the key in the door, flush with laughter and the escape from routine, the promise of a little nookie to come, and WHAM -- all the lights are on, the babysitter hasn't yet put the kids to bed, the place is trashed and the dinner dishes are congealed on the stove. You're nodding. That's what would happen if I just "let it go." All the good feelings get erased in a nanosecond.
So here is my big idea.
I'm filing for email bankruptcy. This is not a novel idea. I remember reading an article about it years ago -- that was before my emails climbed to unprecedented heights. I thought the author was a whiner. He was inefficient; clearly he didn't have a balance in his life or his priorities straight. Now I think he was brilliant -- a prophet before his time.
About a month ago, I left my iPhone in a restaurant. No Good Samaritan emerged from this story -- it was New York City for Pete's sake. But whatever the new owner of my phone did that night, the next morning most of my inbox was mysteriously erased. After some panicked moments and two hours on the Apple help line, I came to the realization it was gone. And all at once a light went on. "So what?" said the light. Big honking deal! And you know what? Nothing bad happened. I didn't miss any deadlines. The people that wanted me just emailed again. They hadn't even realized I'd been playing hooky. They'd probably forgotten whose turn it was to LOL back. The cheesy chain letters that promise a piano will fall on your head if you don't pass it on, the YouTube links, the check-ins and the "tag you're it" emails: Poof, see ya. It felt ... AMAZING.
Ok, so maybe this freedom didn't last much more than two days. And maybe it did take half a day to be OK with it: to mourn the loss and to agonize over what really was important in there. But I got over it. I got used to it. I felt lighter, more unencumbered. I might have even whistled a little. And I decided that periodically I'm just going to do it. Just post a response declaring email bankruptcy: "Everything in my in-basket is gone. Get back to me if it's really important." Now that's what I call living.