Quitting Email?

May 1, 2014

I just read Charlie Warzel’s Buzz Feed article, What I Learned After Quitting Email for a Week. Warzel is right, it’s a behavioral problem, not a technological problem. However, Warzel misses some of the point. 

He bemoans the fact that he typically is chained to his phone at night because of the emails coming in. Um, dude? Turn off the push notifications. Problem solved. 

My attitude toward technology is almost anathema to that of an early adopter. I didn’t get an iPod until around 2007, when my Discman broke on the eve of a trip to Israel, with its 13-hour flight. Furthermore, and perhaps more shocking to some, I acquired a smart phone only two months ago. That’s right, a 30 year old living in NYC had, until two months ago, a “dumb” phone, one that made calls (if AT&T didn’t suck that day) and sent text messages. That’s it. (I don’t like to text, but the phone came with the technology.) I saw no need for a smart phone. I figured that I’d gotten along just fine without one and I could continue to do so. 

But more than that, I didn’t want to run the risk of becoming like Warzel, tethered to my phone and unable to leave technology alone long enough to actually experience something as it’s happening. When people would say to me, “But if you had a smart phone and you were at a show, you could tweet about how great it is.” Excuse me? Tweet while at a show? No way! A modicum of etiquette, if you please.

More to the point, though, if I’m having such a good time doing something that I want to tell people about it, I don’t want to take myself out of the moment so that I can tweet about it. I want to stay in that moment for as long as possible, soak up all the wonder and beauty and joy of that moment. Later, when the moment has passed and I’m idle, is when I can tell people about it. And so I was worried that if I had a smart phone, I would not be able to stay in the now here this.

So when I gave in to peer pressure (truly, I’m ashamed) and I got my iPhone and I set up Twitter and Facebook and Gmail and everything else, I tapped “Don’t Allow” for all push notifications. There is absolutely nothing in a push notification that I need to know right now. As Warzel discovered in his week without email, the people who must speak to you will, and the information you must know will become known. I know that if there is an emergency, my family will call me. No one sends emergency information in an email or a tweet or via Instagram…or even via text, for that matter. (Right? People don’t send emergency messages via text, right?) Ditto for equally important but good news. When my sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece, do you think she and my brother told me via email? Of course not! We met for dinner and they told me in person. 

I don’t think you need to quit email for a week (or any length of time, for that matter) in order to realize what a time suck is can be. It’s just a matter of changing your behavior – and perhaps a few push settings. 



“The central thing that’s interesting for me about technology and relationships is that the purpose of technology is to improve comfort and ease, and that’s a worthy purpose, but the fact of the matter is there’s no improving the comfort of relationships. Relationships are, by definition, uncomfortable. Or you’re not in one. And so that’s an interesting mistake to make. To think that you’re going to be able to bring technological improvement to bear on what is in some ways the most intractable problem of our existence: other people.” 

-Madeleine George, playwright, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence