The tyranny of email and why going off-line is so hard to do

I went on holiday in August. The holiday was part staycation, part travel. I visited St-Petersburg in Russia. What an amazing city, and only 2.5 hours flight from London.

What I hadn’t expected was how hard it would be to be off line!

Many of you will know my views on managing the digital invasion in my life. I go offline on weekends and my friends are used to having to text me or call if they want to get hold of me. On weekends and on holidays, I never check email or schedule a quick client call. When I go offline, I go offline. And I’m well aware that my approach is on the radical end of the spectrum.

There were two occasions during my self-imposed email exile that I was asked to read email. They tracked me down via text. The senders were unconcerned with my email policy. I was clearly a mad woman in their eyes. Offline? Really? But this is just one email. Can’t you log in to read it?

There is no such thing as one email!

We all know how opening up email to find one email has you drawn into the mountain that really is your to-do list for the next few months. You want to read that one email but like a moth to a flame, you are drawn into scanning everything. Reading email is exhausting as the inbox is really a long list of demands, requests from others of you.

The tyranny of email had my friend John sitting in a bathtub in a hotel in Vancouver at 1am reading and responding to email. Such was his fear of the mountain of emails on his return, that he was compelled to do midnight email whilst on holiday.

So what did I do on my holiday when email beckoned? I held fast to my principles and refused to read email. And I felt like a mad woman raging against some imagined foe that no-one else can see. I felt hugely uncomfortable.

And here’s the rub. I am coming to the idea that perhaps my line does need to move. It is getting harder to hold the line. Perhaps I am too radical in the way I manage digital in my life.

And, I still believe finding someway to disconnect is important to our balance and our sense of self.

We stay connected 24×7 because we fear we may be irrelevant. We fear we may miss out. We fear we will not stay on top of things (although the last time we felt on top of anything, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister). But this is a Sisyphean world we live in. We’ve already crossed into dangerous, unsustainable territory and it’s time to take a step back.

Where’s the line for you?


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