Thursday 18 December 2008

“Tie up the knocker – say I'm sick, I'm dead…” (Alexander Pope)

Can we all bring back the phone, letters and paper submissions? Can we lobby for the abolishment of email in the workplace, please? Yesterday – which was a very quiet day in many ways – I screened the email traffic on my computer at work: 65 emails received (18 with attachments), 48 emails sent. About a dozen of the messages that hit my inbox were submissions: three from some geezers who must have fished my email address on one of those magazines or websites for aspiring writers; two from UK agents; the rest from foreign publishers and agents. I don’t have a Sony Reader, nor do I intend to get one, so these electronic submissions can be easily messed up (because I print only the first few pages), overlooked or not considered properly. Significantly, the last two books we signed were good old-fashioned paper submissions. Agents, publishers – send me a hardcopy please!

I have always believed in technology, and tried to make good use of it without becoming enslaved by it. I was one of the first people in Italy – or certainly in my neck of the woods – to have an email connection. Back in 1990 or 1991 I think it was. I still have my first, prehistoric modem tucked away somewhere at home – and I am sure one day it could make a fortune at Sotheby’s. But I think many people still don’t know how to use it properly, especially in the workplace. Rather than being time-saving, most of the time email becomes wasteful. And it generates even more work, and consequently stress.

The direst consequence of some of the most recent innovations that have taken a firm place in our life – mobile phones, Chat-rooms, Networking Sites, Ipods and Blackberries – is that our brain is constantly under fire and at risk of being interrupted – or rather disrupted – in its normal operation, which is thinking, reflecting, imagining and remembering. Our attention span has been reduced, and we have become restless. Sitting down and reading a book for pleasure is becoming more and more difficult. Finding the “mental space” to think and write even more challenging. Constantly under pressure, we end up making some important choices in a split second, and often making mistakes, not thinking enough – as we realize when it’s too late.

But there’s a cure: being selective in what you do and how you do it. “Forgetting” your mobile phone, and leaving it at home every now and then, for example, is a good starting point. So is switching off your Blackberry during meetings or shutting down your email program for long periods during the day, even in the office – especially if you are doing something that needs attention.

Maybe, if we learn how to use technology properly, without being overwhelmed by it, we’ll be able to find it more useful and get to enjoy our life a bit more, as in the good old days – ten years or so ago.

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