The 30-Day E-mail Detox
I am getting used to this. And liking it. A lot. Getting out of the quick-response mode that e-mail fosters has allowed me to slow down mentally and physically.
I call Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness, in London. Though he's made vast changes in his life since researching slowness (talking slowly isn't one of them, I'm amused to note), he admits that he's been unable to curb his e-mail use. I ask what he thinks of the detox idea.
"It's fabulous, though obviously extreme," he says. "I don't think many of us can do without e-mail permanently. The pendulum has swung too far. But a 30-day break could remind you that you can do without it. In this always-on culture, you can be reached anytime—as though that's always a good thing. It's not. We need times to be silent, to be unplugged."
"But where does energy come in?" I ask, relieved to voice a question that's been nagging me. How can we be slow but still enthusiastic, impulsive, spontaneous—all that good stuff that goes along with creativity and engagement?
"The reason that's even a question is that there's such a strong cultural taboo against being slow—which has come to mean being lazy, a slacker," he says. "It's true that doing everything slowly would be lamentable, but the Slow philosophy isn't about that. It's about shifting gears to rest, recharge, reflect, tap into the deeper stuff." Thus the Slow movement encourages eating with attention, taking the time to think before you respond, and, in general, practicing the art of stopping to smell the coffee. Well, maybe not coffee. Decaf, perhaps.
"And then when you need to shift into higher gear," Honoré explains, "you have more get-up-and-go, more clarity, more va-va-voom. You have more vitality because you're not worn out. Life becomes richer; you develop new rhythms."
Halfway There, and Beyond
I'm starting to have Hawaiian Vacation Syndrome: that urge that grips you midway through a fabulous trip, when you start casually flipping through the local real estate listings, entertaining what seem to be perfectly rational thoughts about moving to a tropical island permanently.
What would happen if I canceled AOL for good? Sent out a final mass e-mail saying I'd found the light? Like all new converts, I would spend my time at cocktail parties proselytizing. And like all new converts, I would quickly stop being asked to cocktail parties. Then I'd become uninformed, reclusive, out of touch, and I'd lose my sense of humor. Maybe not the result I'm looking for.
Surprisingly, the final two weeks go by with no thoughts of e-mail. All that sending and receiving just holds no interest or concern. Extracting myself from e-mail took more effort than existing without it.
The Day After
Nervously, fearing the worst, I go online. How many messages could there be before AOL simply stopped processing them? But the pile is shockingly light. For the first week of my absence, there were about 35 e-mails a day. Then it peters out to ten or so a day (not including several daily offers for penile enhancement); since I wasn't sending any mail, I wasn't generating any communication. Several messages, from friends and coworkers, start out, "I know you're not on e-mail, but..." And by the time I'm reading these, almost everything in them is irrelevant.
I missed nothing.