I’m Quitting Email

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It started as an idea. Well, a Tweet, really. What if I just stopped responding to email?

Sure, at first it was said in half-jest after a few drinks. It was me channeling my inner Peter Gibbons — “I’m just gonna stop going” — while I’m sitting here in Washington D.C. completely buried in email after not getting to it all day. But the motivation behind the Tweet and the idea is very real. Email is the absolute devil. And the only way to not be corrupted is to… run away. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

For the rest of this month, I’m not going to respond to any emails. None.

Yes, this sounds sort of like a pampered problem and perhaps somewhat of a dick move — I should be so lucky to get so many emails, right? But the reality remains: email is an absolute nightmare in my life. I dread it in the morning, I dread it more right before I go to bed. It’s always in the back of my mind, lingering.

Following my initial Tweets, Colleen Taylor of GigaOm sent me a link to this old post in Emily Magazine that pretty much sums it up:

When people at parties ask me what I do I think I am just going to start saying that I’m an “emailer.”

It’s both sad and true.

And I’m hardly alone. The tweets I sent out on the topic tonight were met with near unanimous agreement (I’ll paste a some of them below). It seems that most everyone I know wants to quit email. They’re just afraid.

The truth is that I’m afraid too. What happens if I just stop responding? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I think it’s one of those things where if I thought of all of the potential ramifications, I wouldn’t do it. So I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to do it.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment. We all talk about our hatred for email — and we have for years — but few people actually quit. Some try half-heartedly. Others are sure a solution is always just right around the corner. But I’m done waiting and making excuses. I’m just going to do it.

Will I have to cheat? I sure hope not. That would be pretty disappointing. But I really don’t think I’ll have to.

My plan is to still check my inbox from time to time just to make sure that there isn’t some emergency. And I’ll forward things along as need be (without typing anything beyond an email address). But for everything else, I’ll simply set up an auto-responder along the lines of “No longer responding to email, if you need me, you’ll figure out a way.” (Kudos to Shervin Pishevar who wanted to test a similar idea earlier this year, but I chickened out.)

That’s the key to all of this. It’s not that I really want to blow people off. It’s that email blows. There has to be a better way. And I think there is! If people really need to get ahold of me, they’ll know how. There are many options. And all of them are better than email in its current state (come on Gmail Lite, come on!).

That doesn’t mean I’ll respond to all of these alternative communications either — I suspect they’ll build up quickly too. But at least it will be a nice big barrier to entry that will help to alleviate my inbox overload. And the great thing about some of the other messaging platforms out there is that many of them follow the “stream” idea. That is: when you send a message, maybe there will be a response, maybe there won’t. With email, a huge problem is that people expect a response every time. With tweets, people don’t.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. I have absolutely no idea what will happen next. I’ll respond to some of the emails I currently have in my inbox, but then it’s lights out for the rest of July. Will the world end? Will TechCrunch implode? I suspect not. I think that the ultimate result of this experiment will be much less shocking: fewer emails will be sent.

Update — a month laterInbox 10,000: Some Thoughts After A Month Away From Email

https://twitter.com/#!/jbernard703/status/88822300551561216