Monday, November 27, 2017

Further Noodling About Email

Cal Newport, one of my favorite productivity gurus, recently posted a note on his blog about master woodworker Christopher Schwarz entitled, "The Woodworker Who Quit Email"-- which I daresay would have been more accurately entitled, "The Woodworker Who Quit Making Himself Available to the Public via Email." On his website, Christopher Schwarz explains that for 17 years he "answered every damn question sent to me... it was all too much."

Well! Because email sits in the middle of my writerly day like some weirdly charming and farting hippopotamus-- despite my advances in coping with the beast-- Cal's post got my noodle noodling. I typed up a longish comment which, alas, seems to been swallowed up by some cyberspacian anaconda so, herewith, my best effort to replicate it:

1. But where are his filters? It seems to me that it would be a simple fix to slap up answers to FAQs on the contact page, and, by way of helpful links, send advice-seekers and any other non-revenue-yielding correspondents surfing away into yonder cyberspace.* As for the emails I occasionally receive from persons unknown to me that strike me as off-kilter, rude, and/or overly presumptuous, I simply-- this is not rocket science!-- ignore them. (If I owe you an email, gentle reader, more likely I will answer soon and with sincere apologies for any delay.)
2. On the other hand, if emails from the public to said master woodworker do not bring him business he wants-- and moreover, given that, as he says, he has no interest in teaching or speaking gigs-- then it makes perfect sense for him to shut down that portal. Although I myself have no plans to move away from email, I can relate: I deactivated my FB and refuse to use Whatsapp; neither do I watch TV or Netflix, much to the wonder, consternation, and/or annoyance of some people. Oh well! 
3. One major advantage to communicating by email, which I had not thought about recently, is that my telephone is no longer constantly ringing. Back in the 90s when I had two books out, it seemed to ring all day, and it drove me bananarrrramawama. Now I so rarely use a telephone that I do not include it on my business card. Unlike the telephone, email lets me sort through and answer messages briefly or at length as necessary; directly; and at my convenience. Hence, given my personal and professional obligations and priorities-- which may of course be different for other people-- I have found it most efficient to funnel as much communication as possible into email.
4. And before the telephone, there were "visiting days," ye gods, when people would come in and sit on your sofa.**
(People! Such a joy, such a headache, and by Jove, there are more of them every year!)
5. And even before the telegraph, some people had secretaries. Some people still do, so I hear.

# # # # # # # #

**The other day I was reading about a society matron of late 19th century New York City who enticed her visitors, and the unpleasant ones in particular, to keep their visits short by passing them "an angel babe" to hold, presumably one that needed its diaper changed.

This is a person who
undoubtedly had to deal
with an unholy amount of
correspondence. Just sayin'.
For the past decade I've seen the generational divide, young people avidly embracing new technology from email to Instagram to whatever, while oldsters, mumble-joking about needing tech help from their grandkids, tend to resist. Certainly that has been the case in the literary world. If I had a dime for every writer over the age of 50 who could have been raking in the royalties on their rights-reverted backlist but instead dismissed the Kindle with "I prefer a real book!" why, I could buy a raccoon coat off eBay, which, actually, I have a notion to do. (Sigh... channeling Edward Gorey...)

Back at the dawn of this Digital Age, when I was in early middle-age, I embraced email, I relished managing my own websites, blogging, podcasting, reading and publishing Kindles, and whirling around this newfangled circus we now call "social media"-- plus, I also learned how to make videos and GIFs. In short, I never hesitated to explore and adopt new technologies that might serve me as a writer. Now however, it seems to me that the digital divide has evolved into something different. Now I and many others of all ages, based not on prejudice but on experience, more clearly perceive the dangers in these little screens, above all, their time-eating, and attention-grabbing-and-fracturing voraciousness that has turned so many people-- including many who are well into their 60s-- into smombies. These days, rejecting selected digital technologies is not so much about being old-fashioned as it may, on many an occasion, be solid, self-protective common sense-- as Christopher Schwarz's decision to remove his email address from his webpage seems to be for him.

All that said, literate people have always had to deal with correspondence, some more than others, and we writers more than most. And for me, as a mode of correspondence, email still, on an overwhelming number of daily occasions, beats the alternatives. (Although I am ever charmed to send and receive postcards by ye snail mail.)

P.S. In my world, everyone is civilized (else they are not in it). Therefore I can sincerely say that I warmly welcome hearing from readers, friends, family, colleagues, and... roulement de tambour...

... anyone, and especially anyone in Texas, who wants to invite me to participate in a poetry reading series or other such event in late 2018 or 2019. My collection, Meteor, will be out from Gival Press in the fall.

P.P.S. Previous noodling about email:

Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time or, This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)

Willard Spiegelman's "Senior Moments," Guilt Management, an the Magic Wand of an Email

Email Ninjerie Update: Old-School Tool to Break the Ludic Loop

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.