Back in the Before Times, in 2019, I wrote a column about a half-finished message that had been sitting in the drafts folder of my email for five years.
The unsent message was my reply to a reader who had written me in anger. Hers was a lengthy, thoughtful, well-argued critique of a column she didn’t like, and I had decided that instead of dashing off a hasty response, I should take the time to compose an equally thoughtful letter.
Unfortunately, thoughtful is not my strong suit — which is why my incomplete message had, like a tuna sandwich forgotten in a school locker over the summer holidays, festered in the drafts folder since 2014.
To repeat: 2014. Stephen Harper was prime minister. Rob Ford ran Toronto. Target had just opened a store in the Hillside mall.
Why, after allowing my half-written reply to languish so long, did I write about it in 2019? Because it was an example of the tyranny of modern communication, of the inevitable feeling of failure that comes with trying to keep up with a never-ending conveyor belt that spits out emails, texts and voice messages faster than you can read them. Unless handled right away, they pile up and pile up and pile up like the tribbles on Star Trek (YouTube it, Junior) until, when combined with the weight of the guilt you feel for not dealing with them, they crush you like a Trudeau in Alberta.
Why bring this up now? Because today is Email Debt Forgiveness Day.
Email Debt Forgiveness Day was created several years ago by P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman, the co-hosts of the now-defunct internet-related Reply All podcast, who decided we all needed a time when, without explanation or apology, we got to answer, guilt-free, the messages we had left untended since they arrived via BlackBerry.
Here’s how they said you should do it:
1. Dig out the email you’ve been avoiding.
2. Write a reply, ignoring the amount of time that has lapsed.
3. Add a link: emaildebtforgiveness.me.
4. Hit send, then breathe a sigh of relief.
Email Debt Forgiveness Day was inspired, supposedly, by the time that Goldman, unsure of how to respond to messages from old bandmates talking about getting together for one last gig, simply didn’t reply. Then didn’t reply some more. And the longer he didn’t respond, the more awkward it got.
You can probably relate. Some emails can be dispensed with quickly, either with an easy reply or by consigning them straight to the trash like a veggie dog or a Maple Leafs sweater. Unfortunately, others are like Dave Obee after two beers: impossible to ignore, but too difficult to deal with. So they sit there, unanswered.
That’s the way it is with my 2014 message, which still wallows in my drafts folder, unfinished and unsent.
It has aged, of course. Now nine years old, its hair is longer and it has learned how to ride a bike — though there’s really nowhere to do the latter, seeing as it remains trapped deep inside my computer with no way to escape.
At least it has friends in there: the hundreds and hundreds of emails in my inbox that I haven’t dealt with at all. Every once in a while I check in on them, wincing as they glare at me accusingly from their side of the screen. Some are so old they’re written in hieroglyphics. Some have outlived their authors. Some give me the finger as I scroll deeper and deeper down the list.
The list is still getting longer, too. The cool kids keep telling us email is dead, but c’mon, that’s what they said about Elvis and Tupac, too. The numbers don’t lie: In 2019, the Radicati Group, a California-based tech market research firm, estimated that, globally, 293 billion emails were sent each day. Today the figure is 347 billion.
“The average professional spends 28 per cent of the workday reading and answering email,” read a story in the Harvard Business Review. “For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day.” That’s a lot of time to devote to what a friend refers to as “somebody else’s to-do list.”
Anyway, this is Email Debt Forgiveness Day (unless you’re among the people who mark it on April 30; it’s not like Easter or Mother’s Day where the Calendar Police set the date in stone). Time to set ourselves (and our unsent messages) free.
You go first.
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