NYT Bits blog: How do we escape the flood of email?

Before I sound like I’m whining, let me begin by saying that I love all the things that I’m most deeply involved with.

I teach English and journalism at Armstrong Atlantic State University, an incredibly fulfilling job.

I write columns as a freelancer for the Savannah Morning News about a wide range of economic and cultural news. My email address is public, so I routinely get emails from PR folks, from readers, from bands, from promoters, from government officials, from venues, from — well, you name it. After over 13 years of writing columns and about 10 years with the same email address, I’m on a lot of people’s lists. I get a lot of press releases.

Increasingly, because of this blog, Savannah Unplugged, and because of the Savannah-based music blog hissing lawns (founded in Sept. 2013), I get emails from promoters and publicists around the country, not just those with specific ties to Savannah.

I’m also on the board of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, which sponsors several major events every year. I’ll write more soon here about Southern Discomfort 2, our second major group art show and silent auction with works inspired by Flannery O’Connor. I suspect many of the people reading this post are already familiar with the periodic floods of email that come with any type of board membership.

I’m also a contributor to the statewide political blog Peach Pundit, which has an ongoing email exchange among contributors.

And over the years I’ve signed up to get emails from a small number of businesses and a couple of professional email lists. I have a fair number of extended family who do not really use social media, so email is the primary way to communicate.

And then there’s spam.

So, I like all the things that I’m involved with, but I’m totally stressed out by email. On Friday, Jan. 17, for example, the day before a 3-day weekend, I received almost exactly 100 emails. I receive even more emails on other weekdays. Some of those emails are important; some are response to my emails. But email has become for me, an incredibly inefficient system of communication. If I have a particularly busy few days of teaching, meetings, writing, and/or travel, I can often accumulate 500+ additional unread emails in my inboxes before I really have a chance to look at them in detail. I end up missing important things because I never get caught up sifting through the chaff.

And if I try to take more than a few days off from work or have some sort of personal crisis to deal with, then forget about it . . .

So I was curious to read this piece today by Nick Bilton at the NYT’s Bits blog: Disruptions: Looking for Relief From a Flood of Email

From Bilton’s opening:

On Dec. 31, I had 46,315 unread emails in my inbox. On my first day back to work in the new year, I had zero.

No, I didn’t spend two weeks replying to all those messages. I deleted them — without reading a single one — and declared what is known as email bankruptcy.

Am I a bad guy for ignoring those emails? Or are the senders somehow at fault? Probably a bit of both.

Bilton notes a number of different start-ups that have attempted to create management systems so that business productivity is not buried under all the email, but I was most intrigued by the work of Luis Suarez, “lead social business enabler for IBM,” who has moved most of his contacts to social networks:

“If email was invented today, it probably would not have survived as a technology,” Mr. Suarez said. “Social and public sites are much more efficient.”

I see some clear advantages to social handling of a variety of messages.

On the rare occasions that one of the posts on this blog generates a fair bit of discussion on the Savannah Unplugged Facebook page, I’m able to respond to multiple comments and questions simultaneously. With Facebook, event invitations and updates are clearly distinguished — they show up as notifications of a particular category of message, unlike the mishmash of stuff that winds up in an email inbox.

It will be interesting to see what services and technologies are available in the near future. Maybe there’s something out there right now that can solve the problem that people like me have.

One thing’s for sure. No one is hiring me an administrative assistant.