There’s a mini meme going around – Analog August which is linked to a book by Michael Harris as to how everything is hyper connected and only anyone born before 1985 remembers life without the internet.
There’s enough bits of writing out there to suggest that some people feel the need to escape the always on pressure of being connected, and of course it’s holiday time in the northern hemisphere, meaning a slew of angsty articles about what to do about email when you’re away and about being disconnected.
Well I’m wierd. I’ve been using email on a daily basis since 1986 and irregularly before then. Working in a university computing centre and having a PhD supervisor who had a year with the CNRS in Marseille while I was stuck back in the lab with my data meant a crash course in email, file transfer and marked up drafts.
But of course it was different. Go away on holidays for a couple of weeks and you were uncontactable – even a few days out in the field or a library research trip and you were uncontactable and would come back to some emails, some yellow while you were out slips and the occasional official memo.
And this carried on well into the nineties – sending an email to work in lieu of the traditional holiday postcard from Turkey in the late nineties was a minor sensation – ‘what you mean they have the internet there ?’ but on the whole you just disappeared – even though I’d had a dial up connection at home for a few years previously.
In fact it really wasn’t until sometime into the mid 2000’s that connectivity started becoming important and started to be expected, end even then people were pleased if you responded to them while you were away.
But of course, all this was before social media and its instant on. Email was really just an analog of the postal service, or the good old internal memo. Once cell and data coverage became near universal people started to use social media as a substitute for email, and this spread to an expectation that you’d answer your emails – well not quite – recently when I was away we were in places out of range, and, embarrassingly while we were out of connectivity my script to consolidate my work, personal, and other email accounts stuffed up and I lost a few days mail – it’s odd to find no new messages even if you know most of them are irrelevant.
And I discovered something – people cope.
I used to say that the best way of dealing with an overflowing post vacation inbox was to delete everything – if it’s important you’ll find out about it. In fact I used to use a modified version of that solution, skimming the subject lines and the senders and deleting everything that seemed to have no relevance or importance.
Losing a few days email has shown me that it’s still true.
As to Analog August – it’s a marketing trick – a nice one and one that ties into people’s holiday email anxieties.
Switching off is no big deal – it’s a matter of having the confidence to do so and to be in a position to do so. Obviously if you’re expecting an important announcement at the weekend you’re going to be connected.
Also, this stuff has taken over our lives – it is how you book ferries, buy tickets, confirm flights, and the rest, and you do need it when you travel. You just need to have some distance from it and realise it’s a life tool, not life itself.
It’s true I occasionally fantasize about buying a house at the edge of the world and playing chess by sending enigmatic postcards to my protagonists, but actually I’d miss Amazon, buying second hand books on Abe, or reading news from elsewhere. It’s part of our lives, but the real issue is how much it’s a part of our lives .
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century people agonised about not receiving their mail, or about delayed mail ships from overseas. But they coped. The same is true today.
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