If most books and articles written in this century on time-management are to be believed, email is to productive and meaningful lives, what GM and Ford are to shareholder wealth. Ok, so that was a schmuck-like analogy, but it gets the point across. The panacea to the digital evil, these experts say, is to check email only twice a day, at set times and to banish your email client to the nether regions of your computer’s RAM. Of course, they make this point while glancing at their blackberry to exclaim at the latest guaranteed method that will add several inches to their you-know-what.
Its not that I have anything against people who make their money from introducing people to the arcane concepts of calendars and wrist-watches but how has no-one asked the obvious question that if email is to be used only twice a day, what of the spikes in crime-rates by rampaging white-collar workers?
That if it’s not for the promisingly bulging envelope recognizable to MS Outlook users or similarly tantalizing taskbar icons for Lotus Notes and Thunderbird users, why would I and all of my ilk, hang around our laptops? Sure there are meetings to be consummated, numbers to be ‘crunched’ and spiffy ‘decks’ to be made but does anyone honestly think marginally sane individuals can or will do that for the duration of their working days? Who will deny the sweet twinge of anticipation that accompanies the momentary change in cursor to herald the arrival of an email?
It even applies to those emails meant for specialized mailing-lists that usually have two sub-lists in them along the lines of: 1. Accountants against IFRS 2. Everyone else. Sure, they’re not quite in the same league as the surge of adrenalin and other hormones that accompanied subject lines in the days of yore, that went “Pictures of Anna Kournikova” but “hilarious one-liners…”, “Mandatory use of access cards”, “UDF for domestic passengers” all have their place in a day’s work. Not content with all the targeted communication on company email servers, some even like to register on websites to receive minute-by-minute updates of peanut prices in Eritria or better-yet, alumni email groups.
Now, those of us afflicted with elevated levels of cynicism would be feeling just that, cynical, about the role of such emails in instilling work-life balance. But take a look at this exchange not more than a few hours ago with a client.
From I to recipient: Are we on for the meeting tomorrow? (Size 2KB)
Response: Yes, confirmed for 2pm. (Size 63KB)
Interest piqued at the 30-fold increase to email size with less than double the words communicated, I scrolled. Turns out, to the innocuous question I posed, the email system had added:
XYZ allows reasonable personal use of the e-mail system. Views and opinions expressed in these communications do not necessarily represent those of XYZ.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this e-mail is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this e-mail by anyone else is unauthorized. If you have received this communication in error, please address with the subject heading “Received in error,” send to postmaster1@XYZ.com, then delete the e-mail and destroy any copies of it. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. Any opinions or advice contained in this e-mail are subject to the terms and conditions expressed in the governing XYZ client engagement letter. Opinions, conclusions and other information in this e-mail and any attachments that do not relate to the official business of the firm are neither given nor endorsed by it. XYZ cannot guarantee that e-mail communications are secure or error-free, as information could be intercepted, corrupted, amended, lost, destroyed, arrive late or incomplete, or contain viruses.
WTF?! So, let’s recap. They’re saying – we don’t know if you’re the one to have received this email. We don’t know if it’s what it’s supposed to be and if you’re not the one who was supposed to get this, our lawyers will wring all signs of life out of you. Also, let us know which idiot sent you this and we’ll lynch the sender. Not to be outdone, the recipient’s email system responded in kind with warble of its own kind.
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see a few exchanges to mutate into something like:
NEW (and improved) DISCLAIMER: You were not supposed to read this email. If you however have, please delete the email, destroy the computer on which it was accessed (the viruses on the email will probably render your machine as a big-ass paperweight anyway), set fire to the email-server that routed it and jump out of the nearest window. If not, you will be hunted down by crazed network administrators who will then ping you repeatedly while invalidating all your passwords and then dynamically reduce your mailbox limit to one byte less than every incoming email you receive while only letting disclaimers through. Thank you.