email communication

The other day I was boarding a flight, one hand on the roller bag, the other on my iPhone, spinning down through my e-mail.  All I’d really hoped to do was cull out the junk and get a sense of what I’d missed and what needed a response.  After an all-day meeting when there was no time to duck out (conversations at lunch took priority) and a bumpy cab ride to the airport, I was definitely behind on my e-mail.  And while I’d hoped to review longer documents while at the airline club lounge on my iPad, where I could also type on a real keypad and send more meaningful responses, the hotspot on this allegedly “smart” device went dumb on me, rendering the entire day an e-mail black hole.  I wouldn’t be home until 11:00 PM and had a meeting the following morning at 7:30 AM.

It actually didn’t make me crazy.  It just made me crazy thinking how other people would be crazy.  I wouldn’t be able to get back to them until the end of the following day. Is that okay?  I don’t know.  It’s the responsiveness thing.

I’d like to say this is an occasional issue, but the following Monday and again Wednesday I had a different type of problem.  I got phone calls within two days, from two very good clients, wondering why I hadn’t responded to their e-mails. By then my inbox was clear, so I knew this was a cloud thing, or a server thing, or whatever those things are that I don’t have the time or interest to comprehend.  These were both projects that were time sensitive.  I asked the person who manages our technology to track down the reasons we were having difficulty.  We never figured it out.

I apologized to both clients, and they were very understanding.  But again, I was disappointed.  It is the responsiveness thing.  We have this illusion that because of technology we can and should be more responsive, but technology is really in its infancy, and most of us are newborns when it comes to managing it.

An article in USA Today recently explored how technology may actually be rewiring our brains.  Somehow they found a guy who claims he took two weeks off from his smart phone and e-mail while traveling in Italy.  The article is about how difficult it is for most people to disconnect.  I have to say that I don’t have any trouble with that.  It’s just that I don’t think other people understand when you do.

Gary Small, a brain researcher at UCLA points out the obvious – it’s remarkable that we are walking around all day long with these little devices that connect us anytime.  “They give us the opportunity to enhance our lives, but also disrupt our conventional lives,” says Small.  He studied older Americans and found those who were net-savvy showed twice as much brain activity.  Our brains are sensitive to the stimuli of the moment. The quick, constant fix of getting messages sends a shot of dopamine to the brain, and creates a condition that some scientists are comparing to addiction, compulsive behavior, and even narcissism and anxiety disorders. No one knows yet whether that’s permanent, or whether it’s actually addiction.

There are people who cannot get through dinner without checking e-mail.  There are people who keep their smart phones by their beds.  Most of our teenage and 20-something kids have their iPhones in hand all day long and under their pillows at night.  The pings are constant reinforcement that literally create a reward system in the brain.

So even if you don’t want to be tied to your devices, other people are tied to theirs, and the point is that their behavior may be driving your behavior in business, simply because you want to be responsive.

I am happy to hear from you and will get back to you. Unless I am boarding a plane or tracking down a cloud glitch.