by Florrie Binford Kichler
A Modest Proposal for Taming the Mainstay of Modern Technology Known As Email
(with apologies to Jonathan Swift)
Jonathan Swift, in his iconic (and ironic) masterpiece, “A Modest Proposal,” calmly and rationally makes a case as to why the Irish should raise their children as food for their countrymen—pointing out that such a solution would solve overpopulation and reduce poverty.
I’m not going so far as to recommend that publishers eat their young.
I’m not even going to urge that publishers stop writing, reading, or endlessly debating about the future of the book. After all, there would then be no need for conferences, Webinars, e-newsletters, or blogs, which would bring an entire industry to its knees. I’m not that heartless.
Nor am I going to advocate that we burn all the print books in order to eliminate coffee-stained and dog-eared returns, getting it there overnight—and endless debates about the future of the book.
What I am going to propose—which some may think is far worse than a bonfire of paper and ink—is a moratorium on email.
How many emails do you currently have in your inbox? Be honest now—hands off that delete key and tell the truth.
20? 50? 200? More?
I have 256. There, I said it.
Conventional wisdom says the first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one. I’ve now admitted it, but that doesn’t mean I’m any closer to dealing with it. Why? Because tomorrow, 256 more emails will come, and then 256 more after that, and . . . well, you get the picture, because although the numbers may differ, the same thing happens to you.
I’m drowning here, folks. Drowning in a sea of bits and bytes that arrives relentlessly, minute by minute, hour by hour, 365 days a year, into an inbox that is groaning under the weight of it all but sadly has an infinite capacity.
I know what you’re thinking: Quit complaining and delete, delete, delete. I do. In fact, the delete key is the first line of defense against the onslaught, and I’ve become merciless in its use. But for every email deleted, there are at least five more that must be dealt with, acted upon, and/or retained somewhere just in case tomorrow, next week, or next year a customer or a vendor asks that dreaded question, “Do you still have that email I sent regarding . . . ?” God forbid you would have to admit that you don’t have it. (Of course, finding that email is another story, which is why I have 256 of them in my inbox “just in case.”)
Now, I realize that in our technologically driven, 24/7 workday world it would be impossible to go completely cold turkey on email. If I had the audacity to suggest such a heresy, you would all shake your heads, roll your eyes, and go read the latest article on the future of the book.
But just bear with me for a second. What if there were one business day a week where we all agreed to . . . stay with me now . . .
TURN E-MAIL OFF?
Would productivity suffer?
Would business slump?
Would the earth stop rotating?
What You’d Get by Turning Email Off
Certainly the answer to the last question is no—but let’s think about the first two for a minute. What would a day in an email-less office be like?
In an office without email, there would be no annoying, incessant beeps announcing the arrival of the next 50 electronic communications. You know you don’t have the discipline to turn the sound off—what if something “really important” came in? You just have to look, which means you spend the entire day working in three-minute increments punctuated with constant interruptions. Just imagine what you would be able to accomplish with even an hour without email intrusion (let alone an entire day) to actually think through (and complete) a task. Now, there’s a concept.
In an office without email, you would have to use the phone. Remember the phone? Email was supposed to be the ultimate timesaver, the technological solution that would finally free us from all those unwanted human workday distractions. Really? Give me a five-minute call with a beginning, middle, and end any day over 10 back-and-forth keyboard communications of the sort that often leave you scratching your head wondering what your colleague or customer really meant—and maybe you’d better call just to make sure.
Even more important, you might be surprised how impressed your customers will be if you reach out to them by phone, differentiating yourself from the competitors who email.
Finally, in an office without email, you would have to think instead of click. Email is free, easy, and omnipresent. The good news is that it constantly connects us with our customers, vendors, colleagues, and co-workers.
The bad news is that it constantly connects us with our customers, vendors, colleagues, and co-workers.
How many times have you emailed someone asking a question that, if you really considered it, you could have answered on your own? I often wonder if the never-ending email exchange could be eroding independent decision-making because it’s so much easier and faster to ask someone else than to think for oneself.
Mr. Swift was no more serious about a world where the British consumed Irish children than I am about running a publishing company without email. He and I were just exaggerating to make a point. But as with any exaggeration, consider that there may be a kernel of truth in all that fantasy.
Humor me: the next time a beep announces the email arrival of a new article about the future of the book—just say no. At least for an hour. I promise that during that 60 minutes, the world will keep turning and the publishing industry will not collapse. And you might just get something done.
Follow Florrie and IBPA on Twitter at twitter.com/ibpa, and on IBPA’s blog at ibpablog.wordpress.com. Join Independent Book Publishers Association–IBPA group on Linked In (linkedin.com).