Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Falling Down the Time Hole

I just read on the news today that few doctors answer patient emails. The article (here, if you're interested) was really fascinating, not so much because it pitted the "pro" emailers against the "anti" crowd, but ultimately because it failed to take into account the personal preferences BEHIND those for/against opinions.

Representing the "Use email, dipshit!" crowd was a nurse who uses it for her OWN work, and finds it really easier than trying to "track down" people by phone for mundane matters. Opposite this were many (most?) doctors who cited largely legal and/or ethical reasons to avoid emailing patients. Namely, bad advice dispensed over email could wind up as a malpractice suit, as well as lapses in response time aggravating a health issue that had previously been more or less benign.

While not the kind of doctor who sees patients, I typically have well over 150 students every semester, and I couldn't agree more with physicians who do not want to email their patients. But there's no stick-in-the-mud conservatism involved with that desicion, which is what the article ultimately concluded must be the case with reticent doctors. No, I understand completely because EMAIL IS A FUCKING BLACK HOLE OF TIME! I suppose the same could be said for blogging - here I am, wasting time inflicting my opinions on everyone while I SHOULD be composing! - but at some level the act of blogging is linked to creative output, so I feel better knowing that the time I "waste" on it is MY time, and my call to make. But email? Ugh. I loved email when it first came out, right up until just a couple of years ago. Ever since that philosophical tipping point, I've come to feel that email just drains time away. Just...SUCKS it right away.

Do the math: with a typical 16-week semester, that works out to 80 "school days." But even that's not quite right, once you factor in holidays and exam week and stuff. Call it 70 days...70 school days a semester. With 150 students, even if I only get one email per semester from each person, that's more than 2 emails a day. And let me tell ya, I get WAY more than 2 student-related emails a day! Some students might never email, but others will more than make up for that lapse by bombarding me with a dozen over the course of the semester. And oftentimes they're worthwhile concerns, things that are good to have "in writing." Other times, though, the most mundane issue becomes overdramatized and blown ALL out of proportion by the student, so that I end up not only resenting the time it takes to answer the damn email in the first place...I kind of end up resesnting the student who sent it!

At what point did an unwanted intrusion into my life become MY requirement to deal with? You know the old saying: "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"? Well, I feel like that's what a ringing phone, a donging doorbell, or an exclamation-point-highlighted email is. It SEEMS like it's important...but really, it's often only important to the SENDER of whatever message it is. This is why I often simply do not answer my phone, and hang up immediately on cold-callers. That ringing sound? I do NOT have to jump to answer it. Just because the phone (or the doorbell) rings does NOT require me to act upon it. "Ding-dong!" (Looks out the window.) Oh, it's the Witnesses! No need to answer THAT door! Hi! Yeah, I'll wave at you through the window! Nope, not opening the door! "Ring-ring!" Hello? I'm sorry, who did you want to speak to? The "head of household?" Sorry, if you don't even know who you're calling, there's no requirement for me to talk to you.

Shitty attitude and snide avoidance disregarded, this is much the same way I feel about email now. Students are often impolite (at best) in emails, "typing" as if they're e.e. cummings, with no punctuation, no caps, no salutation or send-off...just "hi i was wondering if you could tell me what ones are going to be on the test this wed" and they're off. Don't they know how that rankles a professor? Bad grammar, bad (or no!) did you even GRADUATE from high school, you ninnies?!? And we always bypass on messages, my students and I: I typically check my email between 8:00am and 7:00pm, while THEY like to send messages after 10:00pm...then get PISSY if I haven't answered it right away!

Nope. I can see the docs' point all to clearly: when it comes to "mundane" matters, email is only ever going to be convenient for the sender. That's an idea I can *DELETE* without ever reading it!


Blogger Steph said...

College students really need organized training in how to address TAs and professors through e-mail. It's still kind of a new thing, after all, relatively speaking. I know whenever I wrote professors (or these days, write anyone who used to be my professor), I composed it as carefully as I could and checked and re-checked before sending it off. Probably because when I started college, e-mail was just coming in and we weren't familiar enough with it to take it for granted. Also because I'm compulsive and strange in that way.

If I were you, I would talk about appropriate uses of e-mail at the beginning of every semester and give periodic refreshers as needed. Of course, you probably already do that. Which probably makes it even more frustrating.

3:10 PM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

Wanna eliminate the headache altogether?

Don't give 'em your email address. You aren't obligated to do so. Require that all students address you during office hours with questions or issues. We have plenty of professors who do just that.

lisa ;)

10:41 PM  
Blogger Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

Several of my professors have posted in their syllabus a statement similar to the following:

"Please note that, while all of our students are important to (insert TA's name here) and me, there are several of you. We simply do not have time to address five gazillion e-mails a day on mundane matters. Before sending us an e-mail question, please CAREFULLY read the course syllabus. If you do not see your question answered there, then feel free to e-mail us. However, if you e-mail us a question that is answered within the syllabus, we will deduct two points from the grade of your next exam. We do not do this to be cruel, merely to stress the fact that our time is just as precious as yours. Thank you."

Every time I see a posting like that in my course syllabus, I pay careful attention to all my course documents I'm given at the beginning of class!

11:09 PM  
Blogger Strangeite said...

I was going to leave a comment stating "good post"; but instead, I will just send you an email with a smiley face emoticon.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Animal said...

HA! Good one.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Chris & Andrea said...

Do you call Roz's bedroom the Rausoleum? If you don't, you should.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Strangeite said...

Now that is funny.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Suze said...

Excellent points! I want to add that when it comes to doctors and nurses, time spent emailing is usually not billable, so clinics can lose money if a lot of time is spent emailing instead of with appointments. So it's worth thinking twice about whether that email is necessary.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

In my line of work, email is billable. Which is a good thing, since I work with a ton of introverted techies who can't communicate any other way.

I fit in well with them.

I've been on vacation this week and I dread catching up on email on Monday. A typical day means about 50 emails.

10:21 PM  

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