It used to be that I’d reply to all personal email as soon as it arrived. Those days, alas, have been gone for some time now. While I do receive more personal emails, response time has not increased proportionally – more likely it’s increased logarithmically. I’m not entirely sure why this is so. It’s not as if I have to expend huge amounts of mental resources in my reply, although sometime I do have to make important decisions. I’m not even sure why I’m bothered about all of this.

I do have an idea though. Email is supposed to be the ultimate in instantaneous communication – forget about mobile phones, email is the true medium for communicating ideas fast and cheaply. And as a result I think we’ve been seduced into thinking that all emails should be replied to within minutes, or at least hours.

But what difference does it make on response time if you send a letter via the post or email? The recipient still has to figure out a response and summon up the will to write it. So while the universal constant of procrastination hasn’t changed, speed of message delivery has, and consequently we think that we should get replies quicker no matter what. I certainly do, at least. Considering that many emails are not letter-like in depth or length and so have short response times, perhaps this blinds us to the longer response times required for other emails.

Take, for example, some emails I’ve sent out to people asking what they think the first words on Mars will be. I sent them out about four hours ago, and I expected replies three hours ago. I haven’t received any. Is this a surprise, if I think about it? No – if someone asked me what my first words on Mars would be, I’d probably flag the message, let the question rumble in the back of my brain for a day or two, and then reply. Unrealistic expectations, as ever.

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