Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Nothing Personal

It was going to happen sooner or later. My personal e-mail address has gotten to the point where there is practically no truly personal mail in my inbox. We haven't migrated from dead-tree and ink letter-writing to electronic letter-writing. We have migrated to no letter-writing.

Why would you bother anyway? If someone wants to know what's going on with you, they can just check your status, online photo albums, and tweets.

That's not to say my inbox is empty. Far from it. I get updates from groups I belong to (several weekly inline-skating updates, 2 different religious organizations, team projects for my empowerment course, school updates for the kids, alumni association news and projects). I subscribe to plenty of stuff (word-a-day, LinkedIn groups, myriad of marketing gurus, health newsletters, daily click for TheHungerSite, my favorite charities). I get select Facebook updates, when someone comments on my status or sends me a direct inbox message. And then there's the odd mail where I'm not sure if I'm subscribed to that site or not. This week I found there is a single woman in New York who is interested in me. Wrong gender and wrong continent, but it's nice to know that somewhere, someone is interested in me.

In fact, my primary e-mail has become the place where I get stuff I know I should read as opposed to my RSS reader, which is the place for the stuff I wish I had time to read. I actually get one daily newspaper in my inbox, because I don't get to even read the news every day, and I don't want to be completely ignorant. Not that I could be if I wanted to be, because as long as I keep up with people's FB statuses, I have some idea of the major news events.

The emphasis, however, is on "should". I have a few hundred e-mails in there, over 100 of which are unopened. Just a few months ago, I always managed to keep it below 100 in my inbox total. Now, it's hopeless. I have separate e-mail for work, and for the main volunteer organization I am involved in, but other than that, the rest of the mails are lost in the pile. If I don't answer someone in a day or 2, forget it. That e-mail is lost in the pile. I try putting stars on the ones I really want to deal with but didn't get to yet, but it's only a week before any mail isn't even in the top 50 showing in the first page.

I've stopped feeling bad about it, though, because as I said, almost none of that mail is directed to me from a personal individual I know. It's almost all a blast of some kind, and when it's not, it's at the very least a group mail.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have a lot of real friends. A day doesn't go by where I don't talk to at least one person who is primarily a social rather than a business friend. But the medium is voice, not mail. It's as if e-mail has become a medium for action-oriented correspondence. We speak to someone by phone, and might send the exact address by e-mail or text, but mail isn't the primary personal form of communication. Personal communication is now by social networks for anything general, and by voice or F2F for intimate. E-mail, well, it's just something you don't take personally.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Consumption Reports

Facebook and twitter are constant reminders of what a loser I am. I know in real-time exactly what parties I'm missing, what fancy restaurants I'm not eating in, where I'm not vacationing, and the beautiful weather I'm missing by being inside.

At first, I felt pretty good about all the parties and events I was invited to, and all the friends that I can prove I have. After a while, though, it became clear that my friends were throwing and attending more parties than I am, eating fancier food than I am, and visiting places I wish I were visiting. To top it all off, a lot of my friends have more friends than I do.

For a while, I consoled myself in saying they were RSVPing for parties they weren't really attending and tripitting places they weren't really going. But the pictures say it all. Even when my friends don't brag, their friends post pictures of them, quite obviously having a better time than I am.

As a marketing person, it makes me wonder about the future of promotion. My friends are promoting parties, restaurants and travel destinations, not to mention consumer electronics and other items. Nobody is monetizing that, and, in fact, nobody really can.

Another result is that a natural escalation of consumption reporting. This morning I made myself eggs and toast, and I made sure to post that I had salmon omelet, whole-wheat walnut/pistachio toast, and homemade kumquat marmalade. Most days I have a piece of fruit, and it doesn't make it to my status report, not even if it's a mango or pomegranate. If I take a trip to London, I tell you, but I don't tell you it's on business or just so I can do a course, or if I took a loan to fund my wild vacation. I don't mention that I actually didn't spend any time sightseeing or even shopping and that I barely slept for 4 days running and took the red-eye both directions and went straight from the airport back to work (unless I feel like bragging about what a martyr I am, which is definitely what I am doing now).

There's nothing wrong with this kind of reporting, but it definitely feeds into the culture of consumption and consumerism. I have 600 friends and follow another couple of hundred people, and I've never seen anyone report on their meditation practice.

Most of the posts regarding time spent with family are either about expensive entertainment (travel, amusement parks) or frustrations with sick or cranky children. You don't see much "Just watching my kids in the playground with extreme satisfaction." or "Stayed home with the kids tonight just because they said they wanted me home."

If I have to be perfectly truthful, though, it's astonishingly gratifying knowing that my son doesn't want me to go out, even when he's asleep, just because he wants me "around". Or at least that's what I tell myself while reading what a great time everyone else had last night...

Wishing everyone a very healthy and happy new year, and may your life be as wonderful, fulfilling and exciting as your posts and tweets.