Monday, February 18, 2013

Email Pong

I like to check Profhacker sometimes, because it does have helpful information, and for productivity gadget procrastinators like me, it is a perfect storm of things that I Must Have before doing another lick of work.

Recently, Profhacker's Natalie Houston asks "Would You Announce Your Email Habits?" and links to an article about "How to Check E-mail Twice a Day."

Now, Houston's basic premise about setting times to check your email and "batching" responses is a good and sensible one. I've said it on this blog before, too, and most of us have tried it. It generally works.

Would I tell people? No. Do I tell them I am not going to answer email on weekends? It's in my syllabus, so I guess so.

But the link  suggests that, with a suitable flourish of trumpets, you make this announcement to everyone you know.  The writer seems to think that they'll read that email and remember it among the hundreds of others they get each day. It just seems a little precious to me to imagine that people will care.

Others suggest that you add it to your signature line. Signature lines have grown over the years from a modest 4-line name-and-address thing to 10+ lines with more promotions for products than the Academy Awards.  Still, I guess that's better than a whole separate email.

Then I started thinking.  What if your spam informative email about what and when you'll bother to reply crosses swords with an autoreply?

Original: "I will only answer email at 11 and 4."

Reply: "I am out of the office until future date. Please contact X if you need to speak to someone about the program."

Original: "I will only answer email at 11 and 4."

Reply: "I am out of the office until future date. Please contact X if you need to speak to someone about the program."

Back and forth, back and forth, like an endless, stately, slo-mo (is there any other kind?) game of Pong in which the paddles hit the little blip but the little blip--the message--never scores.

Yes, this made me laugh today.


Dr. Koshary said...

The Pong is funny for sure. But, in terms of actually declaring your email habits, I think it's not only precious but counter-productive. Too many students, at least, are inclined to read this as an implicit right to have their grievances and questions heard instantaneously when that period begins. I think it's much more practical to simply let them figure out that they cannot expect me to reply right away to an email sent in the late evening hours, or that I will necessarily respond to anything on their personal timetable. This is especially fresh in my mind, having just dealt with a nervous-nellie student who would have conducted a real-time conversation via email past my bedtime if I permitted the possibility.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I, too, think that declaring an interval within which you will strive to answer emails on the syllabus (mine is 24 hours during the week, 48 hours over the weekend, which actually, if you think about it, allows me to take the weekend off if I choose) is enough. I do think that not answering emails (even, perhaps especially, those with URGENT!!! and HELP!!! and PLEASE ANSWER!! in the subject line) is pedagogically appropriate as well as a sanity-saver. It's amazing how many questions students manage to figure out for themselves (by thinking, or reading course materials, or both) if one lets even half an hour go by (I have a cousin with soon-to-be-college-age children who was really horrified by this observation, since it seriously differs from the vision of the college experience she'd like for her children, but it's true).

And yes, the ponging image is amusing, and could, I think, happen in some situations. Our current email system allows (requires?) one to set an interval between auto-replies to a particular correspondent, perhaps to avoid just this scenario (which I imagine might bring down a server if it went on too long or too rapidly).

undine said...

Dr. Koshary, I think it's more practical to do that, too--let them figure it out. And if they're not sure, why, there it is right in the syllabus if they want to read it.

Contingent Cassandra, I think our system shuts off the ponging after a few autoreplies, too, but the image was too good to waste.

It's true that they'll figure some things out if they have to work at it a little.