No email, no cry

In the spirit of a recent post by my friend Evan Solomon, I thought I’d write briefly about a decision I made this summer: No more email on my mobile devices. A few months ago, I removed the Email shortcut from my home screen; today, I switched to a new phone, and I don’t plan to configure the email app at all.

The reasoning behind this decision is similar to Evan’s. Very rarely do I get an email whose subject is truly urgent, in the sense that it requires immediate action. Those few that I do receive are almost always related to work – someone’s production site has gone down, say. But, in nearly all cases, it’s a problem I can only solve if I’m at a regular computer. And if I’m using my phone, it’s likely that I’m not currently at a computer, and I probably can’t be at one immediately. So there’s little to be gained from getting the message while I’m on the go. Urgent messages that are not work-related – such as family emergencies – wouldn’t come through email anyway, so I’m not missing anything in that case either.

Like Evan, I find myself able to concentrate better on the people around me when I’m not thinking about the device in my pocket. This is doubly true because of the nature of the non-urgent email I usually get. Many emails are bug reports, and reading about bug reports when I’m not in a position to do anything about them is both highly distracting (mental debugging!) and usually frustrating. Some emails are requests: for favors, for work proposals, etc. This kind of email too is distracting in an unpleasant way, as I find myself silently drafting a response on the spot. Even the few emails I receive that are genuinely pleasant take me out of the moment, and again, don’t really admit of a proper response while I’m on the go (I refuse to write anything longer than a text or a tweet on a phone).

Weaning myself from the mother’s milk of mobile mail was a quick and painless process. A day or two in, and already I could see that I was more engaged with the things around me. When I’m at the playground with my kid, I’m paying attention to him. When I’m on the train, I’m reading a book. And when I’m standing in line or in some other kind of situation where email typically fills the void, I’m often just feeling bored. And feeling bored is a very welcome change from a head clouded by frustration and software bugs.

So, think about it. What value do you get from reading email on your phone? And what does it cost?

4 thoughts on “No email, no cry

  1. ubernaut

    Totally agree it’s one of the reasons i hesitate to get rid of my deactivated iPhone + dumb phone scenario for the sake of one less device as much as i rarely want to have access to both at the same time.

    1. Boone Gorges

      ubernaut – Yeah, I’ve toyed with the idea of switching back to a dumbphone, or dropping my data plan. But there are some things about the smartphone that I genuinely like – the nice camera, maps, and other goodies like that. Not using email on it is one of the compromises.

      1. ubernaut

        Well a deactivated smartphone still has a lot of the goodies mainly the internet access and functions related to it are what are restricted, that and receiving calls obviously. 90% of the time i want either one but not both at any given time. Problem is there are definitely times (vacation, other long trips or on-site business stuff) where i basically end up lugging both things around.

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