Friday, 21 December 2007

Ten Steps To Giving Up Email

I mentioned the other day that, returning from Cuernavaca with the concepts of askesis and otium on my mind, I seemed to keep bumping into friends who were choosing to give things up or trying to spend less time with technology and get back to their bodies. Well, here's an example.

Saul Albert is an extremely smart guy, someone I've been crossing paths with for years, and whose understanding of computers is in a different league to mine. He's an artist and technologist, and (among much else) co-founder of The People Speak which develops 'Tools For The World To Take Over Itself'.

He's also just given up email.

In the spirit of Pick Me Up, he's written a ten step plan of how he's going about this. Here's a taste:

  1. I’m going to talk to all the people I’m collaborating and communicating with via email, and work out together how we can continue this relationship without email.

  2. I’m going to unsubscribe from all my mailing lists (while making sure I can follow them via RSS).

  3. I’m going to tell all my friends and family about this experiment, and make sure they know how to contact me...

You can read the rest over on his blog, along with his reasons for quitting. What struck me was the tenth step of his plan:

  1. Finally, I’m going to organise my time in a way that suits me. This is what I’m most excited about. The thought of time without email, or worrying about email accumulating is really enticing. This will include regularly being in places where I can meet people (by arrangement or randomly) - having certain times of the day for calls and voicemail, and having other parts of the day for work - but just work, as in doing things I need to do - rather than simply shovelling the top off the growing email pile.

This is precisely what askesis should mean: not self-denial, but a deliberate decision to make room for people and things that matter to us.


Anirudh said...

I've experienced something similar. Occasionally, when I have holidays (I am in college) and a good internet connection nearby, I spend a lot of time on it.

In my case, it isn't so much email - which I do check often but don't get much of - but articles/essays. I encounter interesting things that I want to read on the internet and bookmark them. Soon, there are so many that all I'm doing is simply "shovelling the top off the growing...pile", as you put it. Often, this reading is neither critical nor fulfilling and at the end of the day, I am not happy but fatigued.

Anirudh said...

In fact, I often use the concept of askesis with the internet but then, I don't know if giving up the whole thing makes sense.

Dougald Hine said...

Happy Christmas, anirudh - and thanks for your comments!

I have a similar experience of online reading. If you haven't read it, you might find Illich's 'In the Vineyard of the Text' interesting. He writes mainly about the changes in reading in the 12th century, but with an eye to the changes taking place today as result of the internet.

For me, thinking about my use of technologies and habits in terms of askesis can help get away from the dangers of 'either/or' thinking. I don't have to figure out whether the internet is 'good' or 'bad' in an abstract way, and I don't have to make once-and-for-all decisions about my behaviour: I can simply try to notice the effect that using a technology has on the way I feel, the way I think and the way I treat other people, and then choose to make changes to my behaviour based on this. (I can also try to reflect my awareness of my own weaknesses in the changes I choose to make, rather than relying on monumental will-power - e.g. it's a lot easier to cut down my television habit if I move the TV so that it no longer occupies the place of the household gods.)

Anirudh said...

Dougald, do you have an e-copy of the book you mentioned?

Dougald Hine said...

There's no complete online text of 'In the Vineyard of the Text'. The introduction and various other sample pages are available on Google Books, here. Much of Illich's argument about the history of the text is summed up in a 1991 address, 'Text and University - on the idea and history of a unique institution', which is available here.

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