October 13, 2005

Conspicuous Non-Consumption / An Email Free Lifestyle

When Veblen came up with the concept of conspicuous consumption it quite clearly contained within it the idea of conspicuous non-consumption as well. Having a servant is one thing, but having a servant who clearly doesn't even do anything is clearly more conspicuous. In contemporary society nothing can illustrate this clearer then a visit to a high end jeans emporium or a stroll through Williamsburg Brooklyn. The more your clothes make it look like you don't work, beyond perhaps maybe painting or playing in a band, the more status you get, and the price of damaged denim reflects that.

In the networked lifestyle of connected elite (and by that I mean 'elite' in a rather broad sense that almost certainly includes you, my reader) nothing could convey status more than a freedom from email. Not just a knee jerk turn off the computer sort of freedom from email. That might be nice for a week or two, but reactionary is not the answer. No, what would take real skill is the cut out email from your life and remain connected, to say be able to be a freelancer or run a business, without using email. Virtually an impossible task in that particular strata of Western culture I happen to live in. So hard to obtain, and thus such a potential status symbol.

Email is so deeply entrenched in our lives its become easy to hate, but impossible to let go. If one is looking for an obtainable status symbol, the empty inbox is of course the way to go. What I'd really like though is to be free not from the emails themselves, but from the obligations attached to the emails. Waves and waves of spam have somewhat weakened the expectation of a response to an email, but they haven't killed it. And not only do emails carry a sense of obligation, but they also have a longer half life than say a voicemail. Those voice messages sometimes pile up, but the system is architected to push them out. Limited recording time, minimal visual representation, and a linearity that pushes old messages out of the way.

Emails sits in your inbox, or whatever folder they get filtered too, and they stay there, visible until you take action. A visual nag, a persistent stress on the system. Lately I've been thinking of adding an autoresponce to my email system. Send me an email and I'll have an automated reply. Something to the effect that I will read the email, but I don't take actions based on emails. If you want me to do something, call, txt or im are the ways to go. Email is for archives, reference and file transfer. One way information and maybe an occasional long slow conversation. Calls to action? They belong on active media, live media.

So I don't quite have the nerve to install it yet. There is a rudeness and arrogance to it, exactly the sort of thing Veblen took such apparent pleasure in skewering. I'm still just another data whore, racking up messages in that inbox. So what about you?

Posted by Abe at October 13, 2005 11:57 PM