That reaction of mine yesterday morning was excessive, but now I’m old enough to let texts and emails lie for 24 hours, for 36 hours, for 48 hours or 72 hours depending on the weightiness of the matter in order to give myself time to respond to them slowly, if there even is a need tor respond to some of them at all, beyond sending a holding email along the lines of, ‘Dear X. Thank you for your email. If you wish to discuss this then perhaps we can meet, or talk over the telephone. Kind regards. Y’.
The ‘kind regards’ is workplace courtesy, a false smile of icy Saint-Simonian politeness*. It’s sometimes necessary to remind work colleagues that they are just that. They are not your little sister, your angry son, your emotionally cold mother. The difficulty lies partly within us. We have a compulsion or a duty to respond. In this wearing always-on age we feel or think that we have to answer the doorbell, telephone, text, email or message. We think that others have the right to make demands on our time and energy, even when these demands are unreasonable or untimely.
My reactions of impatient anger, and of fight or flight, become amplified when the emails, phone calls and messages arrive in the evenings or at weekends. Sometimes they are sent late on the eve of holidays or on Bank Holiday Mondays. Is this a deliberate ploy on the part of the sender? Perhaps this is reading too much into things as we search out meaning and intention behind acts that are simply behavioural, examples of incompetence or lack of consideration. Of course, some of my annoyance is annoyance at myself for being annoyed and for having opened the email in the first place. There is no rule that says that we have to answer these out-of-hours communications immediately, in the same way as there is no reason to get up out of bed if we are having a much-needed nap and the doorbell rings. They can wait.
In this always-on age we have consequently invented ways of mitigating intrusive messages. We need to do this to cushion our sanity, to preserve our autonomy, our own space, mental and psychological. Hence the out-of-office email, the holding email, the incoming phone message quarantined in voicemail for 24 hours or longer. We can screen and lurk and read the caller display and decide not to answer. Sometimes, quite often in fact, the senders and callers go away and sort their problems out for themselves.
*http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k70363 for the Sainte-Beuve edition
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_de_Rouvroy,_duc_de_Saint-Simon for a biography and English translation of the memoirs