Mike Musgrove set off a blogswarm last week with an article called “E-Mail Reply to All: ‘Leave Me Alone’.”
The buzz is about email bankruptcy. What is email bankruptcy? Mike Musgrove defines it as “swearing off e-mail entirely or, more commonly, deleting all old messages and starting fresh.”
MIT Professor Sherry Turkle has been credited with inventing the term. She talked about declaring email bankruptcy in this 2002 interview with NY Times columnist Costance Rosenblum. She also called it a “fantasy.”
But then along came venture capitalist Fred Wilson — who went ahead and actually did it. Yay Fred!
Fred Wilson is the managing partner of two venture capital firms, Flatiron Partners and Union Square Ventures. (Hint: You’ve heard of Feedburner? How about del.icio.us?)
Pretty clever that a VC would title his blog post “Declaring bankruptcy.”
“I am so far behind on email that I am declaring bankruptcy.
If you’ve sent me an email (and you aren’t my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again.
I am starting over.”
Pretty clever of Mike Musgrove to get the grandfather of the Internet, David Farber, to go on record saying that poor Fred should get out of the technology field.
“For a venture capitalist to say something like this — he should get out of the technology field.”
For the record, I’m in favor of the concept behind email bankruptcy. Also for the record, I don’t think their quarrel has anything to do with email.
The real argument is about words and organizational style.
There are some folks who live to color code. They have Outlook rules and folders within folders. They like structure and order and will do everything they can to control the contents of their inbox.
Then there are folks who like the junk drawer approach. They never sort their mail. They like to see what’s coming in and they want it all in one place. To these folks, inboxes — like all junk drawers — need to be cleaned out periodically.
Both organizational styles are valid. It’s sort of like left-brain / right-brain thinking. Remember the ant and grasshopper? One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. Same with communication technology. Telephone, snail mail, IM, email…they all have their uses. So it’s not the technology we’re really talking about, it’s what’s socially acceptable for how a person choses to manage the technology.
Some people think email = priority. In their minds, every incoming message has an exclamation point. They will eagerly drop whatever they’re working on to offer a quick reply. Other people prioritize thier time differently. They see email as a daily chore. Ok. I get that part. Different strokes for different folks.
So what’s all the fuss?
The word “bankruptcy.”
Dr. Turkle used the word bankruptcy to describe “starting over.” Unfortunately the word also means “utter ruin and failure.” It implies the person is incompetent and a loser. Pretty harsh condemnation for just having a different organizational style.
So let’s change the words. Do-over is so much friendlier.
Our readers are good at inventing new words. What should we call it when you delete all your old email messages and start fresh?