Down with email

Matthew Wade, editor of Windows Middle East, takes a break from technology

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By  Matthew Wade Published  December 4, 2007

If you've read the news at all over the last year or two, you'll have noticed reports that detail how we're all working harder, getting more stressed, and seeing more of our lives ‘taken over' by technology than ever before. So how does life work when we dump it altogether? Windows Middle East's editor embarks on a week-long technology break to find out.

Over in the UK, a recent survey conducted by the Business Forum Leaders in London, which queried 3,000 workers, discovered that 74% felt the "endless onslaught of new technology" put them under pressure to be constantly available, with 28% also reporting that they actually felt less productive as a result.

Here in the UAE, where Windows Middle East is produced, the incumbent telco Etisalat recently announced that the country's mobile penetration had topped 150%, making Etisalat what it claimed is "the number one telecom operator in terms of mobile penetration in the world". If true (and there has since been some debate over that figure), this equates to 50% of UAE residents here having two mobiles each. Talk about available.

As an atypical tech editor, the truth is I've always scoffed at ‘my life is being taken over by technology' complaints. My response to such IT-weary types has always been the simple and flippant, "Technology bugging you? Then turn it off." A recent conversation with a friend however caused me to pause and actually consider this advice a little closer. "I could not do my job without e-mail, full stop," she suggested, in all seriousness. That got me thinking...

Is this turning off of technology really possible?

Yes, the flicking of the physical switch or the exiting of a software program isn't an issue, but professionally speaking - even socially speaking - are we really in a position to function without our noughties (00s) accruements? Have e-mail, the mobile phone, the MP3 player, and their ever-so- productive kin become such an intrinsical part of life that the ‘old ways' and methods of doing things simply don't apply? And therefore would turning all these devices off simply cast us adrift in an ocean of prehistoric, tortoise-speed ineffectuality? (And as an aside, could I sound any more like Bradshaw Fisher from Sex in the City?).

This is worth an experiment - and thereafter a feature - I figured, so here I am. Today marks day three of my week-long modern tech hiatus. I've given e-mail, web surfing, my mobile phone and MP3 player the chop, and all I'm keeping are my work and home landline phones and the TV. (My carefully considered thinking being that for this experiment to have any real contemporary validity it should concern today's modern tools, not every technological invention ever born. At least that's my argument for clinging onto the Premier League footie and Frasier).

Whilst I don't want to give away too many of my findings so far - in case I have little left for the Digital Detox feature due in the next issue of Windows Middle East - I have already noted what I think are some interesting advance conclusions.

See what you make of these then, and if technology gets your goat, do tell me about it on

1. Blindingly obvious statement time: this experiment is going to frustrate my colleagues a lot more than it will me.

I'm into day three now and I've both got a ton of work done and am feeling rather serene. On the flipside, the PR managers I keep asking to ring through new product information and my colleagues who can't send me information without printing it out and hand delivering it to my desk (or... the pain of it... faxing it to me from other offices), are beginning to sound a tad weary.

Yesterday, just two days in, I was asked when this investigation would be over, and that was from someone who works in the same office!

2. It turns out that I probably store half my working life in Outlook. I keep needing to open the program, but not to check mail; to dig out important attached files and advisories I've saved there. I think I can justify this behaviour by suggesting that if Outlook didn't exist, these would be either stored in Windows folders, or else in hard copy format in a filing cabinet.

3. Morning glory: it's true what they say about the first hour or two or work time. Normally most of the first hour at my desk would be spent checking and responding to e-mails, but if you plough straight into the first important task of the day without opening Outlook, you truly do get a huge amount done.

Note: I may be peeving a lot of colleagues, both by not responding to their mails and by sending them automatic Out of Office messages (detailing my feature and why I'm doing this), when in truth they know I'm actually sat there, but I reckon if their issue is really that important they'll pick up the phone. Surely they will?

4. Usage patterns. The benefits and respective drawbacks of phone and e-mail communications are becoming clearer by the hour, yet many people - myself included up until the day before yesterday - often don't seem to choose the most applicable method.

I'll explain: as you can imagine I'm making a lot more phone calls to colleagues than usual due to my not being able to mail them. However the calls that I'm making instead of sending e-mails - such as chasing information from IT companies for features and talking to production staff about getting copies of the magazine - give me a blast of human interaction that e-mail can't provide (even with smilies), and when colleagues are available to talk I receive not only instant feedback, but also get issues resolved immediately (rather than all that digital to-ing and fro-ing).

Thus I surmise that when it comes to discussing issues and solving problems instantly with another colleague, the phone rules the roost. E-mail meanwhile is the tool of choice for sending group notifications, circulating ‘FYI' updates and storing ‘proof-in-writing' backup copies.

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