If numbers don’t lie, as the adage goes, then consider this. Since starting my current job as a professional staff member at a university a year-and-a-half ago, the total number of emails I have received, sent, and been copied on has reached 16,000. I know this, because those ever vigilant techies at Google have kept track of it for me. Actually, they do it for all of us.
If you do the math, say, based on a five-day work week over a period of 18 months, that comes out to roughly 30 emails a day. I didn’t take vacation time during this period (mea maxima culpa), but neither did I account for holidays like Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s. So the 30 emails per day figure is pretty accurate.
Now, here’s the thing. That’s 30 emails a day every day. If you fall behind, you get up the next morning with 30 more to deal with, and so on and so on. That’s a lot of writing, even for somebody like me who spends most of his professional life at the keyboard. And while it’s true that some of these emails come and go in a flash –mostly the result of certain people who insist on having the last word–others can drag on like Beowulf.
Recently, I got caught up in an email thread that went on for 89 exchanges. Again, Google counted them for me. It was over an invoice. One invoice. You might be tempted to excuse this because the emails involved money as well as a dozen people, but after a while the Law of Diminishing Returns (Invoices) takes effect. Anyone new to the thread who wanted to find their way through it à la Theseus could easily get devoured by the email Minotaur.
Being unaccustomed to all this (I don’t even like to talk if I don’t have to) and being naturally recalcitrant, I have managed to exercise a degree of professional composure that is surprising. Well, it’s surprised me. Sure, a lot of my motivation has to do with the benefits folder I received when I started, but as Moses said when asked by God how many commandments he wanted, I’ll take whatever I can get.
I’ve also noticed a funny thing on the way to the digital forum. It started happening about halfway through the 16,000 emails. When trying to schedule calls or Zoom meetings, people would send me their calendars (Google again) and tell me to “plug” myself in. Now, if you tell a recalcitrant New Yorker to plug himself into anything, don’t be surprised if you don’t get the reaction you expected.
The first few times this happened, it took me a while to figure out my response, which was no response at all (see The Non-Response Response). The response to my non-response was also no response, which 8,000 emails ago made perfect sense. Now, however, it just seems part of the bizarre email labyrinth. There has been only one person whose calendar I plugged myself into. I did it mainly because she was young and genuinely interested in the event we were sponsoring. She meant no offense.
So, why am I offended by having to plug myself into somebody’s calendar? Let me sum it up in one word: equality. Years ago we used to joke about having your people call my people, which was a way of saying who were we kidding, none of us had people, and that we would take care of our own schedules. In other words, we were all on equal footing. Anything beyond that smacked of pretension and elitism.
Under the new dispensation, however, elitism is the order of the day despite so many ripped jeans and t-shirts in the workplace. You have to have the latest iPhone, 5G, a green screen, Google Calendar, and project management software. These are required to get that highly prized if cliched “competitive advantage” over your rivals. If you have one of those programs that lets you map out the customer journey, even better. Never mind that customer coercion would be a more accurate description.
To be fair, having people plug themselves into your calendar is more efficient than going back and forth over email, especially when you’ve got multiple Zoom meetings daily. But, as I used to tell my students, the most important thing in business is relationships, not efficiency. Respect, not technology. Making me plug into your calendar only tells me you’ve got more important things to do and people to meet, which doesn’t help either one of us. Of course, here’s an idea. You could always call me.
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