Email Policy

Note that I rarely check email on McGill's "Office 365" server (jeremy.cooperstock at mcgill dot ca). If you don't want me to see your message, that's a good place to send it. For anything that requires my attention, please contact me through jer at cim dot mcgill dot ca.

"I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address."
- Donald Knuth

In a typical year, I received approximately 20,000 email messages after SPAM-filtering has removed most of the junk. Since most messages arrive outside of weekends and holidays, this translates to a figure approaching 85 emails per weekday. Liberally estimating 15-20 of these as announcements, automated output (e.g., cron jobs), and unfiltered SPAM, this leaves approximately 65-70 legitimate messages that request some action, often requiring a response. In a typical uninterrupted session, each email message I send takes an average of 10 minutes of my time. You do the math.

Although I do not share their first name, I have been inspired by two great scientists -- Donald Knuth and Don Norman -- both of whom have managed to free themselves from the yoke of email. While these men are priviledged to have administrative support who handle their electronic communications, many computer professionals, such as myself, who read and respond to our own email, find ourselves spending an inordinate proportion of our time dealing with this task.

When I originally wrote this page at the beginning of the millenium, I referred with dismay to the all-too common lineup for Internet access at academic conferences. This, of course, was soon supplanted by eyeballs glued to smartphones and tablets. Time marches on, but the all-consuming power of email (and texts, tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, etc.) continues unabated. We check our devices constantly throughout the day, interrupting whatever we're doing at the beep or buzz of each new incoming communication, demanding our immediate attention, as the recipient has, by now, come to expect a reply within a matter of minutes, if not less.

I thought I could beat the pressure, and so, tried to adhere to a policy of checking my incoming email at most once per day, usually in the evening, and then turning it off. Unfortunately, I wasn't strong enough. The policy was a chimera.

However, several other elements of my email policy persist, because there's simply no other choice for most of us mortals:

Last updated on 13 August 2016
by Jeremy Cooperstock