The most important attribute of email is the asynchronicity of the medium: The sender and the receiver do not have to be in contact at the same moment. This enables efficient communication. You can integrate emails into the fabric of your life. You originate a message when you want, and you reply to another's when you want.
Until the "revenge effect" occurs! How does this work? Email was invented. Then Blackberries were invented so we could be sure, when we are away from our computer, to receive emails as soon as they are sent and reply to them immediately. In fact, we feel compelled to read and respond in real time. Asynchronicity disappears.
Worse, manners disappear. We sit in meetings and, at best, try to look at our handheld screen without appearing to be distracted from the conversation. You have seen the maneuvers -- a casual glance towards the crotch where fingers are quickly at work -- a sudden excuse to go to the restroom -- a coughing fit so the person can turn away from the table and check the Blackberry. At worst, we just put the device on the conference table in front of our face and divest from the conference.
Worse still, relationships disappear. A couple sits side by side at an airport, each reading and writing email on their two machines. A child impatiently waits to talk to a parent while the driver hurriedly answers an email while stopped at a red light.
I write from experience. I was a "Crackberry" addict. As I look back and see how often I was rude or inattentive, I am embarrassed. As I look back and see how often I responded in haste to an email in the midst of other activities, I am appalled.
But, I have given it up. The impetus was when Cingular wrote in November to tell me that my bare bones Wireless Mobitex data service was going to be discontinued, but that I could "upgrade" to one with a higher price with more functionality, if I also bought a new Blackberry or Treo. I had until December 31 to make the switch: "All Mobitex devices on your account will be unable to send or receive messages after that date."
I read that sentence and had quite a different reaction from that hoped for by the Cingular marketing department. Gee, if service will end on December 31, why wait? Let's end it sooner. So, I did. I called that 800-number and shut 'er down that very day. Blackberry cold turkey.
I have since discovered marvelous things. The sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Airport lounges are great places to visit with friends or read a book. Red lights are an excellent excuse to stop driving, look around, and see what's happening on the streetscape. People in meetings pay more attention to you if you pay more attention to them. The email that arrived three hours ago is still relevant -- or better yet, no longer matters!