Saturday, May 26, 2007

Email Bankrupcy

Mike Musgrove wrote in WaPo Last month, venture capitalist Fred Wilson drew a lot of attention on the Internet when he declared a 21st century kind of bankruptcy. In a posting on his blog about technology, Wilson announced he was giving up on responding to all the e-mail piled up in his inbox. "I am so far behind on e-mail that I am declaring bankruptcy," he wrote. "If you've sent me an e-mail (and you aren't my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again. I am starting over."
I can understand how he feels. I have been hospitalized, and faced 1000 message in my inbox when I was discharged, but I made it through them, and now I take a laptop when I go to the hospital, and deal with it as it comes in.
.... Some people who don't want to go through the drastic-seeming measure of declaring total bankruptcy say they are trying to gently discourage the use of e-mail in their communications in favor of more personal calls or instant messages.
I much prefer email. A phone call or an instant message interrupts what I am working on. I must respond when the caller is thus deciding I am to respond, and then I am faced with trying to figure out what I was doing when I was interrupted, and resume it. With email I can choose when to deal with it. When I am at a stopping point I check email, and respond to those items that need a response, and then I start working on something else.
... Stanford University technology professor Lawrence Lessig publicly declared e-mail bankruptcy a few years ago after being deluged by thousands of e-mails. "I eventually got to be so far behind that I was either going to spend all my time answering e-mails or I was going to do my job," he said.

Thereafter, Lessig's correspondents received e-mail equivalents of Dear John letters: "Dear person who sent me a yet-unanswered e-mail, he wrote, "I apologize, but I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy," he said, adding an apology for his lack of "cyber decency."
An automated response costing him no time, but it means the sender gets an email he has to deal with, that does not contain an answer. I guess that may be better than waiting forever for an email that will never come, but if the email was just passing something on, that does not require a response, you have just sent one, and someone else must take care of it. And what if everyone did it. Person A declares email bankrupcy and sends a message to everyone about that fact, and then sets up an autoresponder. The message reaches person B, who has already done that, and his autogenerated reply goes back to person A, where it triggers another auto response. Pretty soon the interned is tied up with autoresponders talking to each other.
He eliminated about 90 percent of his e-mail traffic, but said he can't quite abandon it entirely. "The easiest strategy is just to ignore e-mail, but I just can't psychologically do that," Lessig said in an interview.... The critics of e-mail themselves have critics, who say copping out is a reactionary and isolationist way of dealing with modern communications.

Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor David J. Farber receives piles of e-mail as the administrator of the "Interesting People" technology news mailing list. He has no patience for e-mail bankruptcy. "For a venture capitalist to say something like this -- he should get out of the technology field," Farber said.

Wilson, the venture capitalist, did not respond to a phone call placed to his firm -- or to an e-mailed request for comment.
Maybe he declared a complete communication bankruptcy. Or maybe he just does not want to deal with reporters.

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