Art & Commerce: The BlackBerry Jam

I just lost yet another important e-mail during a momentary lapse of concentration, not to mention the letters are wearing off my delete button. The daily flow of e-mail is getting to the point where it’s a real challenge to hack through it all, not to mention it getting in the way of the real work.

You can blame an increase in offers for junk bonds and male-enhancement products. You can blame it on Adweek, AdAge, Mediaweek, Jack Myers and countless others feeling the need to update us on industry developments several times a day. (Why oh why did I sign up for them—hang on, did I sign up for them?) Last but not least, you can blame the BlackBerry, which still seems to be everybody’s favorite fruit. Which maniac thought it was a good idea to give go-getting, thumb-happy executives access to e-mail 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?

Rant over. Believe it or not, I’m almost a fan, despite being the longest holdout. (I know your little game—this isn’t about convenience for me, it’s about convenience for you!)

Here’s what’s good about the office in your pocket: When you’re on the subway, you can delete all the e-mails that other people with BlackBerries have sent you. When you have a great idea in the shower, you can send it to yourself and others almost immediately (step out first). On business trips, you are no longer at the mercy of your client’s firewall and you may even be able to avoid lugging a laptop around, thereby gaining a brief but satisfying advantage at the airport X-ray machine. And there may be times when you really need to keep an eye on your in-box-while visiting Starbucks or shopping at Century 21 department stores, for example.

But like everything else, with great power comes great responsibility. Here are six simple pointers for getting the most out of your Berries without driving everyone else bananas. (BTW, much of the following can apply to desk-based e-mail, too.)

1. Resist the urge to press “reply to all.” Consider who needs to know what and select recipients appropriately. This will reduce the time the rest of us spend reading endless e-mail strings or, as noted above, reading the last in a string, deleting all the others unread and then realizing, too late, that there were multiple strings (Re: Re: Fwd: Re: The Same Important Stupid Subject!).

2. Resist e-mail strings, period. If an issue cannot be resolved in, say, four back-and-forths, use that funny old machine on your desk, the telephone. It’s quicker, more polite and it’s good exercise for your other fingers.

3. Do not read or send messages in meetings unless you absolutely have to. That’s not polite at all. The same applies when attending religious ceremonies, a movie, a dinner party, and during and after intimate romantic moments.

4. Respect personal time off. It’s a sad fact of modern corporate life that we have to be reachable at all times and now, thanks to technology, we are. If you’re out of the office, put an emergency number in your “bounce-back.” If you really need to reach the person who is out, call or leave a message. By just banging out an e-mail, you’re assuming that your colleague is going to be checking his or her in-box every five minutes. More to the point, you are forcing them to do so (just in case), which isn’t much of a vacation, given that’s what we spend most of our time in the office doing anyway.

5. Do not use while driving, or when operating heavy machinery or dangerous power tools.

6. If you’re planning to have several adult-strength drinks on any given evening, kindly leave your BlackBerry in an inaccessible place. Authenticity is a wonderful thing, but telling people how you really feel at 3 o’clock in the morning can be a career-limiting move.

Now I have to go and delete the 50 e-mails that have come in while I have been writing this.