Editorial August 2012
TAKING THE LONGER VIEW
When was the last time you stepped back from your PC, turned off your smart phone, and just let your mind wander for a bit? If you’re like me, that probably doesn’t happen very often. There are all those deadlines to meet; memos, reports, and e-mails to write; and all those meetings to prepare for, attend, and act upon.
It’s a busy world, and we’re busy people. Reflection time is rare. That’s why I was pleased a few weeks ago to be able to attend a collection development conference that we held here at Choice. It was a break from the routine, an opportunity to sit back a bit and listen to some savvy and experienced academic librarians talk about recent collection development initiatives at their libraries.
It was an interesting, productive, and enjoyable meeting, and I had no difficulty paying attention. Still, I found myself periodically checking my smart phone to see what was happening on the e-mail front. And while I managed to refrain from answering a single e-mail during that time, what I couldn’t help doing was compile a running tally of new e-mails. When I walked into the meeting, my in-box contained twenty-plus new e-mails. Two hours later, when we adjourned for a break, it had a bit over fifty. By the end of the meeting, which ran four hours start to finish, there were over eighty, a tally that does not include any of the priceless new messages that had accumulated in my junk folder.
Now, I have no idea whether these numbers are high, low, or typical for people in positions like mine these days, but these are typical for me. That said, it’s also true that a lot of the e-mail that comes my way is of minimal value. Perhaps 10 out of 100 new e-mails require an actual written response. The rest tend to just sit there until and unless I get around to filing or deleting them. If I were a more efficient sort, I’d file or delete them all. My network manager certainly wishes I would. But cleaning out an in-box takes time, time is in short supply, and e-mail is only one of the contributing factors to the time squeeze that drives my work day.
It’s easy to see how all this can lead to an excess of “in the moment” behavior. Being in the moment is ordinarily a good thing, particularly in an age of multitasking when so many of us live in what one observer recently described as a state of “continuous partial attention.” And yet there can be too much of a good thing. What we do here and now has consequences, and some are long-term. With our meters always running, it is easy enough, too easy in fact, to always go for the quickest answer, the fastest solution, for whatever will help us cross another task off our list now, while leaving longer-term considerations for later.
We know better than this of course. The trick is in doing better. Maybe it would help if we all took the time to read more books?—IER