Fighting back against text messages

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I'm not angry any more. It's because this week I started being less available to people. Counterintuitive, because I like people. Well, I don't like many people but I like the idea of people.

I'm happily, peacefully, unavailable for interruption. I don't have a quick minute. It's such a relief. Today I sat down and started working on the things I decided to work on. It's about being more present in the now. Paying more attention to the task at hand. Listening to the people here with me, and thinking about them. Not being ripped away from the obligations I have so painstakingly made and scheduled.

It was surprisingly hard to give myself permission to be less interruptible. Hard because I have and embrace certain responsibilities where I want to be interruptible. But it's gone too far. Continous availability for interruption any time any one of my friends, colleagues, aquaintances, family members, has any fleeting thought they want to share, any question they want to ask has eroded all of my relationships rather than enhanced them.

The damage was subtle, building slowly. Eventually I realized the problem was me, not them. I felt irritated at the friendly hello, the non-urgent question that could have and should have waited for the next in-person meeting, because I had mindlessly accepted the defaults in the technology I used. The problem was how I consumed these communications - as an interrupt that had to be read (if not processed) immediately.

The last time a family member was on his deathbed, I wasn't able to answer the phone because I was at an event and didn't get the message for an hour or two. I have never felt regret or wished I had gotten the message sooner. However, my attention and participation at countless other events has been destroyed by interruption with friendly, well-meaning, absolutely trivial messages.

The solution is simpler and easier than I ever thought possible. Text messages are now relegated to the same hated status as email. No badges telling me about unread counts. No alert when a new message arrives. No indication of any sort that a message is waiting. I'll read my messages when I remember to go look and see if there are any waiting.

It's worth mentioning that I've tried a less severe policy that was a total failure. My previous attempt was to not respond to personal messages while at work. It didn't work because I still knew the messages were there, which yanked my attention over to them and caused an expensive context switch despite my intention to postpone reacting until a more appropriate time.

I am partially reachable for emergencies. Call my phone. It's probably in my bag or in my car or on my desk in the other room at home, and I won't answer if I'm in a meeting at work (%50 of the day), spending time with my family (%50 of the evening), riding my bike, eating a meal. If it's truly an emergency, I'll hear about it.

The fastest way to get in touch with me just might be to write me a letter. Or make an appointment for coffee. I promise I won't be distracted by text messages while we are talking.

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