The other day my wife and I had a couple friends over, ate some burritos from down the street then went to the hospital and had a baby. Later, in the hazy hours of dawn, we lay in the recovery room, peering through the gloom at this strange addition to our family. It bolts you to another dimension, this business of having a new human on your chest, an almost ethereal plane wholly detached from your quotidian existence. And then you get a crapload of emails.
Having spent much of the last decade grumbling about the ever-growing incursion of electronic communication into our lives, I owe the gods of ones and zeroes some fondness this week. Every now and then an overflowing inbox is a blessing not a curse, its 75-kilobyte missives perfectly calibrated to the emotional and logistical needs of the moment. The wife and I did not want a hundred phone calls those first 48 hours. We did not want a stream of texts vibrating away our mellow, or a parade of visitors marching through our fifth-floor sanctuary. What we wanted was a lot of sweet, expectation-free messages we could read between newborn howls, and that’s what we got.
Soon I’ll go back to griping about email. I’ll reboot my conviction that the endless barrage is bad for creativity, bad for mental health, bad for happiness – bad, even, for the holy bottom line. As Wytold Rybczynski has written, Henry Ford first cut down the daily hours at his plant, then closed his factories on Saturdays altogether, with an eye toward selling more cars – “an increase in leisure time would support an increase in consumer spending” was his reasoning. Who’s to say what dialing back today’s constant in-touchness would do? (I personally would buy a dozen new cars if it meant I could firebomb just a third of my in-box.)
For now, though, a temporary truce with poor email. Going into the new year with a new child, I shall be open to all things, even the virtues of an unhealthy technological invention. But by God if I don’t write you back promptly, I’m blaming the baby.
Chris Colin is the award-winning author of “Blindsight,” published by the Atavist and named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011. Read his work at www.chriscolin.com.