Recently, I wanted to contact a well-known elder statesman of contextual New Testament scholarship about a review, but discovered that he “doesn’t do” email. Which meant typing and proofing a letter, printing it, addressing and stamping it, waiting for the reply, and sending another letter (or, in this case, two). What a testament to the momentous changes in office work in the past fifteen years that this is a rare occurrence!
I was arranging a review for a publication, and the logistics really were quite comical. Check in with the paper editor about their openness to having so-and-so write a review (email). Send a letter (mail). Wait. Get response (mail) and ask editor a couple questions (email). Receive another letter the next day with a change in the review scope (mail). Order some additional books (email). Check in with review editor (email). Make a determination about what the best way to proceed (need some time to think). Send another letter (mail; two days later than I would like because of Sunday and the holiday). Right now I am waiting for the reply letter so I can email the paper editor with the final word.
At first, it was refreshing to type, print, and sign a real communication! And I felt like I was getting a Christmas card when I received the response. The editor and I both expressed some envy about someone who could continue to function at such a high level without email. (Maybe that’s why–I’m certain this scholar thinks so!) Why don’t I do this more often? This is so real and tangible! But then the complication set in. Oh, it would be so much easier if I could just get an immediate response. Or maybe even call, or IM, or text!
So I guess I’m not going to switch to an all paper system after all. But the experience was a good reminder to me of why personal notes still matter, why “slow” can sometimes be better than “fast.” And why, even though I’m not giving up my email account and Twitter feed, I really do need to unplug for a few hours each day, think, dream, and not “do” email.