Ah, the pleasant emetic of a Sunday morning rant….
Last night, some good friends who moved to the country some time ago visited us for the Brockwell Park fireworks. It was very nice to see them. Over a glass of wine and some chatter, I asked the woman of the couple – who is a lovely person, scrupulously well-mannered and kind – about an email she’d sent me months ago, soon after they’d moved, about a lovely National Trust property near their new home which she thought I’d be interested in investigating for research purposes. I’d replied to her email, saying how interesting it sounded, and how I’d like to see it.
And then…. nothing.
“Did you get my email?” I asked politely in a lull in the conversation.
“Oh, yes!” she said, cheerily.
I seethed gently.
Now, I’m a bit bonkers about email. Always have been. I make time to check it regularly, I always reply straightaway even if it’s just to say I’m there, and I organise a task list based on it. It doesn’t take much time, it’s just what I do. Because it’s a very, very useful tool. People can send me complex messages instantly, when they need to, and I can send complex answers when I’m able to. Really, what’s not to like?
So why do people find it so very, very difficult to manage their email? The catalyst for this question was not just last night’s conversation. It was a column by Victoria Coren this morning which basically says “email is making me rude,” because she doesn’t have the time to respond to it:
If the world declares that it is now good manners to answer emails within a day and text messages within an hour, then someone like me, who desperately wants to be polite, is forced to be rude. Either that or handcuff myself to the computer (translation: “buy a smartphone”) and give up any hope of quiet, techno-free time in the day.
Earlier this year, someone sent me a non-urgent work email, which I failed to answer immediately. It slipped down the in-box (I get, I would say, about 70 emails a day, and not all of them offering me a penis enlargement), until it was out of sight.
Two weeks later, he rang up, shrieked that I was a stuck-up bitch who should get over myself and slammed the phone down.
There are two types of people in the world, I think: those who read what Ms Coren says here and go “oh, I know, it’s just a nightmare“, and those (like me) who go, “two WEEKS!”.
Some advice for Ms Coren, and for anyone who worries about email overwhelming them: when someone sends you an email, and it’s someone you care about offending, ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIVING IT. This is just basic bloody manners. Just say “thanks for the email, will get back to you in a while,” or something. Let them know you’re there and alive. Because if you don’t do this, what you’re doing is precisely the same as blanking someone in a conversation. It’s just basic good manners. Don’t do it.
Also, if you’re one of those people who believes they get an unmanageable amount of email (and how much you actually get is neither here nor there – for me, Ms Coren’s seventy emails a day is a tiny amount, but for her it’s obviously a mountain), then use some basic strategies for dealing with it. Check it periodically (by which I mean regularly, not incessantly) and spend a little time applying some basic filtering: delete the rubbish, file the mechanical, respond to the human, make a task list. You’ll find it takes barely minutes to organise a crowded in-box.
“Oh, Lloyd, you’re such an anal geek, I don’t have the time for this.” This is where things get difficult. Many people see email as something that is done to them. Not as a device to help them communicate. You people really need to get over this. Your email address is the same as your mobile phone number. It’s a tool for modern living. It’s not like death and taxes. It’s not an inevitable fact of life.
Which leads to my final point: if your email inbox is oppressing you, if it’s really getting on top of you, then get rid of it. Seriously. Or at least be honest and set an auto-reply on your email which says something like “I’m not very good at this form of communication, so I may not reply to you for quite a while, or even ever. You may however suddenly find me restarting a conversation which you thought had been terminated months ago, and you will of course be expected to respond to me a lot quicker than I ever responded to you.”
Because for the rest of us who use email, and use it properly, your rudeness and constant implications that your life is too important and wonderful to communicate with the rest of us are really doing our head in. And the next time you’re on the phone to us, don’t be surprised if we suddenly, and without any warning at all, hang up on you in the middle of a conversation, only to call you back a month later and start it again.
Now, I’m off to check my email.