Heads up, this content is 14 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

confessions.jpgLast night I stayed up later than my body wanted me to, doing little more than refreshing my inbox. Click. No new mail. Click. No new mail. Click. No new mail. Click. Junk mail. Click. No new mail. Click. Letter from a friend. Read. Keep as new. Click. No new mail.

It’s an addiction. Responding takes energy, but just checking to see if I’m being thought of only takes a click.

Having just returned from 11 days out on the East Coast in quasi-vacation mode, I’m behind on my inbox. There are about 50 messages that I intend to reply to, many of which could be handled in less than two minutes, but I don’t want to do that. I want to sit with each one and give it my full attention. I want to respond with as much time and focus as I would if I were looking the person in the eye. Many of these emails come from people that I can’t easily grab a coffee date with, so I want my response to genuinely convey my appreciation for them and my commitment to our relationship. Two minutes is not enough for that.

As a result, those emails sit in my inbox unanswered for days because I’m not ready to redirect my attention. I’ll usually flush that folder to zero about once a week, giving everyone the lengthy responses I believe they deserve, but let’s face it: seven days is not a quick enough response time for most people to feel loved.

While I was clicking refresh on my inbox last night, I was also refreshing my twitter application, looking for other lost souls who were awake at 1am and trying to feel less alone. But twitter shocked me out of my daze when it stopped giving me tweets and started giving me error messages:

Twitter returned a "bad request" error. This happens when you exceed 70 requests per hour. Avoid running other Twitter applications or refreshing too frequently.

Am I really that bad?

For someone who resents the idea of responding to emails in less than two minutes or five sentences, I sure do adore a communication platform that limits me to 140 characters or less. Why? Because with Twitter, I can only type 140 characters, and people can only type 140 characters back to me. It’s the extra lite version of blogging, email, and phone calls, and therefore I am not able to use it as coffee date substitute. Sense of responsibility removed.

Let’s take inventory. I have 205 friends on Facebook. I have 124 friends on MySpace. I have 117 professional contacts on LinkedIn. I share my most personal writings with my 113 closest friends on a private network. There are 109 blogs in my “always read” folder. I follow 56 people religiously on Twitter. I realize that these numbers may seem low compared with some social media hounds, but here’s my commitment: (with the occasional exception of blogs,) these are all people I actually care about and am genuinely connected with. My networks are valuable to me and I fight to keep them that way. Because of this, those numbers seem absurdly high to me.

Meanwhile, I habitually leave the ringer off on my cell phone because I can’t stand small talk or interruptions. I also haven’t been available by instant message in over four years. If you need my attention immediately, I’ll respond to a text message (direct twitter messages have the same effect — but you have to be one of my Religious Fifty-Six for that to work). If you need my attention within an hour or two, email is best. But if I don’t feel like your email requires an ultra-quick or immediate response, it might get circulated into my “respond when I have adequate time” folder, and we already know how that works.

The exception to all of these is always work. I’ll answer my phone for clients and contractors. I’ll respond to their emails right away. I’ll even use instant messaging if it’s for the good of the project. You can see where my priorities are.

But when I’m not being paid for fast responses, I like to handle things in batches. I don’t do dishes as they get dirty; I wait until my sink is full and then I throw on my ipod and dance around my kitchen until it’s clean again. To me, that’s far more satisfying. I’m one of those focused passionate types who’ll naturally spend an entire day only walking, reading, writing, researching, coding, blogging, talking with a friend, or staring at the ocean. And if I’m extra lucky on those days, I’ll remember to stop and get lunch before 4pm.

Timothy Ferriss, in the Four Hour Workweek, recommends only checking and responding to email once a week, and using an autoresponder to let people know that this is how you function. Unnecessary emails and obsessive data hunger fall away.

I could see this working for a world traveler, but for a computer-bound web worker? Would that even be possible?

Or would it be embracing my natural system and ditching compulsive behavior?

This thought is so radical I think I need to go browse my inbox for awhile for comfort…

Heads up, this content is 14 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

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I just got a snazzy little digital camera for Christmas. It’s 12 megapixels, it fits in my pocket, and it takes beautiful pictures. There’s only one problem: out of the box it makes loud beeping noises every time I press a button. And much to my dismay, the “OFF” switch for this is NOT quite so intuitive to find (hint: clicking the “MENU” button isn’t going to bring you there, and the instruction manual hides the answer). But after many wincing minutes of “Okay, I think we’re gonna need to return this damned thing,” I finally mashed enough buttons that I ran into it.

So if you’re trying to enjoy your brand new toy and find yourself fighting with the same problem, I bring you… THE SOLUTION!

  1. Click the “HOME” button once or twice until you see a menu.
  2. Use the Right arrow key to scroll all the end of the list, where you’ll find “SETTINGS”
  3. Click the Middle button to select “MAIN SETTINGS”
  4. Use the Right arrow key to select the first option: “BEEP”.
  5. Click the Middle button to toggle the options for this setting.
  6. Use the Down arrow key to find “OFF” and select it with the middle button.
  7. Click the “HOME” button again to get back to taking pictures.

All better!

Heads up, this content is 14 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Four years ago, on a hot summer day, I was bored and decided to start a new website. This particular website was intended to be a community space and publishing venue for writers. I gathered up a few friends to help me sculpt it and get the word out, and together, we named it The Writ.

The Writ had massive ambitions and zero budget. For the first four months, it survived entirely on coffee, cigarettes, insomnia, optimism, and keg party marketing. When its membership jumped from 4 to 100, we were beside ourselves with shock. When we secured a $1200 grant to help with the web programming, we felt like we’d won the lottery. When we found a guy in Romania who promised to build us every web feature we ever dreamed of for $1200, we were certain that literary world domination was well within reach.

And then, when we all burned out from volunteer hours and discovered that Mr. Romania wasn’t the programmer of our dreams, we quietly admitted failure, gave up on the project, and moved on. It would die, we figured, without us — but hey, it was fun while it lasted.

So when the damned thing refused to die, we didn’t quite know what to do about it. There it was, living on without leadership or maintenance, with broken features and mysterious glitches, with ugly designs and spam-bloated forums, and with a passion and force that made absolutely no sense to us at all. New members were signing up. People were posting writing. People were commenting on each others’ work. People were creating community.

And that’s how I know I didn’t get it. In all my pride and ambition, I had missed the point entirely. It wasn’t about making things bigger and better. It wasn’t about creating a sustainable revenue model, or establishing a fancy brand, or extending deeper into the community. And it most certainly wasn’t about us.

The Writ now has over 5,500 members. People post new writing every day, and most pieces receive constructive feedback from readers. Over the last four years, several people have stepped up to take the leadership reigns and in doing so sparked new life into the community. But that role is too taxing to sustain long-term as a volunteer without a programming staff, and its presence is usually short-lived.

Does that matter? Not as much as we thought it would. The community members don’t really care if they have a leader or not. All they care about is being able to show up, share their stuff, and connect.

That’s it.