no mail today

Last week the university email went down. And the week before. Both times on a Monday morning. You know, Monday, the day when you’re psyched up to go back to work after the weekend. The email was off when I got up sometime around 6.30 – it came back on again around 9 am.

As it turns out it wasn’t the whole email apparatus that broke, just the bit of it that services mobile devices.Just mobile…  So those of us working at home, or perhaps already on the train, primed with caffeine and waiting with our phones and tablets for the first communication of the day, were no longer server-ed. We were, albeit, temporarily, server-less.

And it was the weirdest feeling. A dead inbox. A former repository. The inbox that had ceased to be.

I knew that somewhere mail was piling up, but I couldn’t see it. What’s more I couldn’t decide what to ignore and what to attend to. It was as if someone had decided for me to shut out everything. I was disconnected, marooned, cut off from contact with others. Well, with the few people who I actually wanted to talk to.

Bruno Girin, Flickr Commons,

Bruno Girin, Flickr Commons,

But seriously. Why was I worried I asked myself. Most of what was in my overnight inbox would be junk – reduced price travel to places I’ve already been, reduced price travel to places I never want to go to, reduced price on clothing that I wouldn’t be seen out of the house wearing and probably not even inside it, reduced price theatre tickets to shows I wouldn’t dream of going to. And of course the emails about conferences I am not interested in, journals I don’t want to read let alone publish in… as well as the odd interesting event that I can’t get to because my diary is already full to overflowing.

As I considered my inability to respond I rationalised – it isn’t reasonable for people to expect an instant response – even though that is often what I do. If something is really urgent they’ll just wait, wont they? And if it is really important they could always try ringing me or simply…. Oh hang on. I still have facebook and twitter. If they really wanted me they could just tweet or DM me.  And if I really wanted to, I could still contact just about anyone of note.

In fact, I did tweet something slightly crabby about the lack of email, and had a small exchange with a colleague. This confirmed that I was still electronically connected. I wasn’t really cut off, I remained part of the network.

But it still felt weird. Almost as if I was alone and abandoned. Ridiculous I know. And a sure sign that I’ve succumbed to implicit institutional expectations that I will be available all hours of the day and night. But also evidence that I have a habit – a digital dependence – and that I am somehow hooked on being hooked up.

I am reminded that when number one son first got a mobile phone he seemed to spend an awful lot of time just making connections – yo you there, I’m here, seeya in two minutes kind of thing. I used to joke that he and his mates were like whales – they used sound waves to make sure that they knew where everyone else was, every minute of the day. They always had a sense of where they were in relation to everyone else – yo you there, I’m here.

I realise that I am now no different. So belated apologies to number one son are due. I see that it’s not actually the content of what is said on the email that matters, it’s the fact that I can connect quickly if I want to, and be contacted by someone if they want to talk with me. I use email in preference to talking on the telephone, although email doesn’t replace face to face in any way, shape or form.

But it is as if the email has become a part of me – rather in the manner of a William Gibson character physically connected to the web through some kind of digital implant.

Oh dear. I do need to do something about this. I’m sure I can take myself in hand. For a start I’ll give up checking on the email so often. Now. I really will. Right now.

Step away from the keyboard now.

Yes. I can do this. I just have to check my email first before I leave it for rest of the the day… And please let the server be working when I get there.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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2 Responses to no mail today

  1. Charles Knight says:

    ” it isn’t reasonable for people to expect an instant response – even though that is often what I do”

    It seems perfectly reasonable (to them) because you yourself have set that service level expectation – I found myself doing it as well and realized I was making a rod for my own back, so stopped replying to things instantly.

    I’ve also stopped reading email first thing in the morning – I don’t open it until at least lunch and I find I get a lot more done.


  2. JayeAnneRyan says:

    There must be gremlins in the system on Monday mornings, as I too experienced IT problems. My PC ‘crashed’ and had to be taken away by the IT doctors, and I too felt as though I had no purpose in the office. However, the problem was more than my PC as I was not content to log on to someone else’s PC and continue work … I wanted my own ‘space’ and objects around me, things which make me feel comfortable as I worked – or not as the case maybe.
    … And work I did (sooner, rather than later) as the IT doctors returned within the hour with a new PC, which I accessed immediately only to discover … No emails !


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