with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
When I first started blogging—you know, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (haha)—marketing and PR professionals were seen as visionaries if they bothered pitching to bloggers or approaching them at all. I’m rounding the corner to my ninth year of a public online existence; that’s, like, a century in Internet years, or something. Back in the beginning, no one noticed me. And then, for a while, I would get maybe one weird email a month, then one a week, and I remember thinking it was becoming A Thing when I started getting one or two a day.
If you’re doubled over with laughter, reading that, it’s okay. I understand. Nowadays—between the couple of email addresses I use most frequently—it’s not unusual for me to receive upwards of 200-300 emails per day which I consider spam, and that’s just the ones that aren’t caught by the spam filter. There’s probably 50-100 emails each day which I truly care about, too. And then blog comments (all of which arrive as emails from WordPress). My point is, I get a lot of email.
And? My mother raised me to be polite. So ever-increasingly, I find myself in somewhat of a conundrum, stuck between what I consider acceptable behavior and the constraints of time, reality, and trying to have a life.
Look; when I get junk mail in my physical mailbox, I throw it away, and I don’t feel bad. Similarly, when I get emails of the “infographic available!” or “Dear Blogger” variety, I hit delete and don’t feel so much as a twinge. Bulk mailing is easy to spot, both online and off. I feel no responsibility to respond to that sort of communication. And for a while, any time I received an email that started out, “Hi Mir,” I’d try to respond, even if only to politely decline whatever was being offered. But nowadays a “personal” email is only a mail-merge away, so even those communications using my name don’t necessarily give me pause.
The problem I’m experiencing now is twofold: First, I’m finding more and more often that even bulk-seeming communications are becoming more persistent. A few years ago I would’ve been offered the infographic; nowadays, I delete the offer email, then get a second “I haven’t heard back from you” email a few days later, then a week after that comes a “just circling back” mail, as well. Do I have a responsibility to take time out of my day to email this perfectly nice-seeming folks to say, “Actually, no, I’m not interested, and if you’d spent even thirty seconds looking at the sort of work I do, you would know I will never be interested in this, you’re pitching the wrong person, and P.S. for the love of God, if I don’t answer the first time, please take the hint?” Even more insidious is another email trend I’m noticing, where the first email ends by asking me “is today good for a call, or can we set up another time to talk?” It seems innocuous, but when it 1) comes from a stranger, 2) relative to something I regard as junk mail, it’s weird, right? And then there’s ever-increasingly urgent follow-ups trying to convince me to schedule a call so that I can be annoyed by voice rather than by email. Yuck.
I have hundreds of emails every day. I also have a job, a family, hobbies, a DVR full of shows I’d like to have time to watch, a stack of “must read” books, and an adorable yet needy dog. Part of me feels like the “polite thing” is to respond to more of these emails, even if just to say “I’m not interested, but thanks.” The more rational part of me knows there just isn’t enough time, and really, if someone is contacting me unsolicited, why is it my responsibility to engage if I don’t want to? That’s crazy.
Second, the wonderful thing about all of this immediate communication and technology is that you can now reach out and touch someone any time and get a nearly instantaneous response, but the terrible thing about all of this immediate communication and technology is that it’s led us to believe that if we don’t hear from someone immediately, something is wrong or the message wasn’t received. This can cause problems related to the incessant email-pitching or even just in everyday life. For example: I’m friends with someone on Facebook whose political views are very different than mine. I rarely engage on that front, but we both know we have opposing views. Shortly after one of the few times we’d actually had a clash on a discussion thread, this friend emailed me about something wholly unrelated, opening with “I hope after that last Facebook discussion we’re still friends.” I saw the email but didn’t answer it right away—it was the weekend, and I was busy. Less than 24 hours after the original was sent, it was followed up with something along the lines of “Sorry not to hear back from you, I guess we’re not.” Good lord. I found myself rapidly apologizing for being absent, even while I felt completely annoyed that a non-immediate response was being interpreted as anything other than me having a life.
I want to be polite, and considerate, and exhibit professional behavior in work-related areas and good friendship to those I know in my personal life. But it feels more and more like the “digital age” makes both of those things impossible unless you’re willing to be online 24/7, and give pieces of yourself to anyone who asks.
There’s got to be a middle ground. How do we find it?
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