Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina, does not think they should have to.
“E-mail is a sinkhole where knowledge goes to die,” said Mr. Jones, who said that he gave up e-mail in 2011. It was a radical move, not least because Mr. Jones helped write the code for the university’s first e-mail program 30 years ago. “I’m trying to undo that sinful work,” he said, joking.
E-mails to him receive an automated reply: “Goodbye E-mail, I’m divesting,” plus some 20 ways to reach him. About the only person frustrated by this, he said, was a department head who wanted to know “how will you possibly read our important departmental announcements?” Mr. Jones said with a laugh.
But in his quest to eliminate e-mail, Mr. Jones may have a surprising obstacle: students. Canvas, a two-year-old learning management system used by Brown University, among others, allows students to choose how to receive messages like “The reading assignment has been changed to Chapter 2.”¯ The options: e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter. According to company figures, 98 percent chose e-mail.
I had a great time this Monday at the RTP Foundation taking part in 5 minute talks on open source projects called “RTP 180: Open Source All Things.” While I talked — slightly over my 5 minutes, I’ll admit — just over 60 slides representing about 1% of the projects currently hosted at ibiblio.org passed by on the screen at about 3 seconds each. That could have been a little fast for some people, so I’ve reposted those slides here:
It’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” and don’t fear, we’ve got pirates in the National Archives! Here’s a caricature of “Paul Jones the Pirate.” This is a copy of a circa 1779 engraving found within the Records of the Office of War Information.
To send off our graduates into their new lives, he quoted from a ballad he had heard whilst growing up in Derry in which a young woman was going off into the world leaving on the 12th of May. There was much wise reflection in his interpretation of that ballad in the context of commencement, but I recalled and recall now the final verse which is a hopeful send off for graduates and for Heaney himself:
So I bade them all good evening
and there I hoisted sail,
Let the best betide my countryside,
my fortune never fail.
Then night coming on, all hopes being gone,
I think I will try elsewhere,
at a dance or a wake my chance I'll take
and leave Magherafelt May Fair.
MIT’s Daniel Smilkov, Deepak Jagdish, and César Hidalgo have created a great Gmail metadata visualization tool called Immersion. The first thing that Immersion does is map your email interaction networks in a nice interactive way. You can see networks emerge, strength of ties (via number of interactions), isolated mail bombers (usually listservs or alerts), and relationships easily and beautifully.
For me this is particularly nice as you can control the time periods that are mapped. So I mapped my email interactions for the three years before I quit email, then the two years after having stopped doing email, finally the past month of #noemail (this past month).
Mail networks pre-#noemail (3 years)
Mail networks since practicing #noemail (2 years)
Mail Networks in the past month #noemail (June 2013)
But how did those pages get created and how did they end up in Chapel Hill on my NeXT in first place?
Wide Area Information Servers and the WWW gateway
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Judd Knott and I led a network services research group at UNC in the Office for Information Technologies. Among the projects we developed was an internet bulletin board service that allowed access to all kinds of software for information sharing, Free software (as in Freedom), USENET News, Gopher, etc — even email. LaUNChpad quickly had hundreds of users and allowed us experiment in a living world and in the process contribute to information access in a small way.
Not long after, Jim got email from Tim saying that he was submitting a paper on what was now called more briefly WWW at the upcoming Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference Hypertext 91 in San Antonio in December. Tim made plans to stop by UNC and visit with us before going on to Texas. He was confident given the immediate acceptance of WWW on newsgroups and as seen in his logs that he would get a good speaking slot at the conference.
A few weeks later, we learned differently. Tim’s paper had been rejected. But he had been offered a spot to demonstrate the WWW. Only a couple of catches. There was to be no Internet connectivity at the conference. And as Tim’s demonstration required a NeXT computer, he would have to bring his from Europe. Tim was intrepid and soldiered on.
A Call to an Expert
Anticipating Tim’s arrival, I called a nearby Computer Science department. The voice at the other end had heard of Tim’s project but was not impressed. He immediately recited what he saw as deadly problems with the WWW:
Links in hypertext must be bidirectional. WWW’s are one way only.
WWW servers aren’t aware of each other and there is no inter-server communication.
All WWW servers are equal. There should be a concept of hubs.
WWW servers don’t keep state. They are completely unaware of their previous interactions.
It’s obvious that whoever wrote the hypertext engine doesn’t understand SGML. This HTML is done all wrong.
Finally, he’s giving this away for free. That means it has no value at all. We have our own version and a strong licensing partner.
I didn’t take Tim to meet with the person who owned that voice.
There was, as you see now, a link to the WWW< >WAIS gateway for searching a database in the next room. When I clicked on the link, my information request first went to CERN in Switzerland then back to UNC to search the database. The results then left UNC for Switzerland where html was added and then the results sent back to my NeXT.
Tim showed me how simple and easy editing and creating a WWW page could be. First he showed how straightforward editing was by changing “demonstration” to “demonfdgfgstration.” I created my own page and added a link to an FTP site in Denmark that hosted a sound collection among other things. I wanted to see if the NeXT and Tim’s WWW browser would be able to pass the sound to a player. I think it did, but I really can’t remember if it did.
Beers near English Scholars
That night, I invited Tim, Jim, Judd and others working on our project to my home. My wife, Sally Greene, was having a bunch of her friends, all PhD students in English over as well.
The geeks and literature folks didn’t really mix. The geeks were out on the deck in the warm North Carolina fall night. The scholars were in the kitchen. I think some of the talk inside was of “Afternoon, a Story” a hypertext composition by Michael Joyce. Someone was interested in how current theory impacted (yes that word) and was impacted by hypertext. No one had actually experienced hypertext other than Apple’s Hypercard though. Yet just a few feet and a few drinks away…
Luis recounts some of his motivations for beginning to Live A Life Without Email over five years ago. The speculates about our futures at work, at home and in the world. Looking at our kids is a good way to learn the ways of an evolving world — even if one lesson is to start forgetting what you’ve always found useful and helpful.
Luis includes this video of kids evaluating their current social media (SnapChat, Tumblr, and Whisper.sh are not mentioned)
“The Work of Art, Technology, and Love in the Age of Digital Reproduction”
What do light-weight, long-lasting batteries, Match.com, 4chan, Kittehz, SnapChat, Skype, Open Source software, Wikileaks and texting have to do with love and art? They put very contemporary twists on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and on More Love’s subtitle: “Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s.”
Along the way, I managed to pick up the idea of inviting people to join the talk via Google+ HangOut. Part of this idea came from a conversation with Mark Katz who was expressing his regrets that he would be in Venice on the day of the talk. Mark said something like “I’ll be in the City of Love tho.” It struck me that there are several Cities of Love — San Francisco especially the Haight, Philadelphia, Paris and to some degree Boston (where couples of all genders may marry). I arranged a HangOut with Bebo White who lives in the Haight, Lorraine Richards who is on the faculty of Drexel in Philadelphia, Courtney Pulitzer who lives in Paris, and Edwin Huff in Boston.
One of the interesting side effects of this Hangout is that while I know Ed, Courtney, Lori and Bebo none of them knew any of the others. Each was from some different time of my own life. Still we all played together well.
Part of the idea for the Hangout was to bring Citizens of Cities of Love into the museum by using common consumer technology, but another part was to mirror and draw attention to Emily Jacir’s piece “Where We Come From.” Jacir solicites and performs small acts of remembrance and love in Israel on behalf of Palestinians who are forbidden to return to the places of their birth. Our aim was not so charged. Each Citizen offered to perform some small task for some one attending the talk. But as love should be bidirectional, the person requesting was asked by the Citizen to perform some small act on behalf of the Citizen.
Bebo will be documenting a visit to Spike, a coffee house in the Castro where Michael Williams’ friend Austin Miller is a barrista. Michael in turn will be recreating a human pyramid that Bebo and his friends created at UNC during the 1967 Human Be-in. Bebo also took us on a stroll thru the Haight using his phone camera including an interview with a modern flower girl.
Edwin showed us the spring snow outside his window. He was asked by Iris Tillman Hill to run out and toss a snowball. Ed grabbed his phone and took us out while he did just that. Iris was only asked to enjoy the warm sunshine on Ed’s behalf.
Thanks to the Ackland and especially to Amanda Hughes and Allison Portnow for making this possible. Amanda helped document expressions of love by the Citizens who in return are at this moment receiving prisms as tokens of love from Yoko Ono as part of her “Time to Tell Your Love” piece.
During questions someone asked more about Benjamin’s ideas. I referred them to John Berger’s 1972 BBC series “Ways of Seeing” Particularly the first episode. Here it is:
Paul Lancaster of Sage (UK) aka @lordlancaster, Luis Suarez of IBM Spain (joining the Hangout from the Canary Islands) and I did a Google Hangout to discuss International #noemailday, #noemail and #lawwe (Living in A World Without Email). Good to chat with my international #noemail friends about what we do (and don’t do), how we’ve done it, and what we encourage others to do (and not do).
On current trends, then, if email response times keep increasing by 10% a year, and assuming that an average postal delivery time in your country is two days, I estimate that by approximately 2020 it will be faster to get an answer from someone by writing a letter than by sending an email.
Tomorrow 12/12/12 is No Mail Day. The second No Email Day. The first was 11/11/11. The idea is to try to go 24 hours without email. What to use in its place? Most anything else from F2F, Phone, txt, social media or smoke signals.
Here are several #noemail stories to keep you warm as we approach the Day. Turn up the gas log fire. Burn a few pixels. Relax. As Mother Jones said: “Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.”
The first report “What Mimecast knows about email” looks at the inboxes of corporate email users in a handy interactive infographic format. Mimecast is unique in that they survey users in the US, UK and South Africa. Some small differences there to be seen.
The second report “What end users think” looks at user opinions and deceptions. For example, 25% of those surveyed say that they sent emails late at night from home in order to show their commitment to their jobs. 57% reported spending over half their work day on email (27% spent writing; 30% spent reading).
A third report or infographic looks at “What IT Professionals Think” about their email. Only 30% of IT professionals delete mail from their archives. 64% fear that social media poses a security risk. Only 1 in 5 or 20% believe that social media has an impact on email use.
Not exactly social or #noemail related, well perhaps indirectly related: The Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project released a new report on the “Demographics of Mobile News” . The data represented by Poynter shows a significant change in device use from smartphone to tablet at about age 50 (more granularity of data would be helpful in understanding the points and trends of change). One simple explanation, that I’ve been giving out at my recent talks, is that this is exactly the age that our eyes begin to change. When we need, but resist bifocals. When the print is just too damn small!. The rise of tablets will hasten the death of email among the group most resistant to change — men over 50.