Friday, December 10, 2010

Email sabbatical: one researcher's approach

Over at Lifehacker, there's an admiring post about "Researcher Danah Boyd," who's planning a trip and is setting her email for the six weeks she's away to go straight to the trash so she doesn't have to answer it. Here's some of her reasoning:
Do I miss things while I'm on vacation? Most certainly. Inevitably, I will receive numerous emails from journalists covering year-end stories about teens, people wanting me to review journal articles, students wanting help with their term papers, and perhaps an invitation or two. I do feel guilty not personally responding to these people to say that I'm unavailable but that's precisely the point. I need to let go in order to truly take a break and refresh.
At first glance, this seems positive: Absolutely. Does email really have to mean being on call all the time? If you're going to take a break, take a real one and leave the email requests (and the guilt) behind. Since she's already written to her usual correspondents and work partners telling them she's doing this, they ought to be ready for it.

On the other hand, what if you're a fellow researcher not in regular contact with her who is, say, putting together a conference panel or asking her to review an article for you? And you write to her and wait? And since you don't even get an autoresponse saying that she's gone, you wait some more or maybe send a second message, because you don't know it's going straight into the trash? And then you go on to someone else, but only after you've wasted a week or two?

Much as I hate autoresponse, it does strike a balance between "no information at all" and "personally responding," but those messages usually say "I'll be in touch when I return." She doesn't want that to be the message she's sending.



Nicole said...

Radio silence is never cool. I'm all for auto-reply. No is better than no answer.

Anonymous said...

You know, why not do the autoresponse and have it explain that she won't respond to email sent during that period of time? I have taken a step WAY back from email during sabbatical, but at the same time, I wouldn't just opt out completely. Doing so strikes me as irresponsible and rude.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I agree. Why in the world wouldn't she opt for an autoreply? It still protects her sabbatical time, and lets people know why she isn't responding. (In addition to Undine's suggestions, perhaps she might be contacted to write a tenure review letter, or about a job candidate - any number of people who could live without a response, but who would need to know that they weren't getting one.)

I bet she leaves such an away message on her voice mail, rather than just unplugging the phone. Why not do the same with email?

Anonymous said...

Why not just have an autoreply stating she will be gone until X. Period. Nothing else, no implication that she will respond when she gets back. My brother does this, and so do I, and no one has ever complained about it. Of course, I do have to empty my mailbox when I get back, but really, how hard is that?

undine said...

I think so too, Nicole.

Dr. Crazy--I know. It strikes me as rude, too.

Pilgrim/Heretic--good point about the tenure review or job letter, especially the latter. Committees are apt to contact you at the oddest times for those, and how would you feel if someone didn't get a job because you couldn't be bothered to speak to the committee when they called?

Not hard at all, Barb.

I think what bothered me in the original post is that there's an arrogance to assuming that her time is so very, very important that people only exist for her when she wants them to--when she wants to contact them, for example. If I were on the receiving end of that attitude, I think I'd decide that the "can't be bothered" attitude could work both ways.

Anonymous said...

There's absolutely no reason that an auto-response couldn't declare that she won't deal with any mail received in that period and that it will be deleted sight unseen; therefore, there's no justfication for doing this way what could be done with a few clicks on her return. I suspect that she is reluctant to have that message sent individually to all her correspondents, in case they read it as undine suggests they might, and therefore opts for this rather nastier solution.