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severalog

Investments, email, and monkey tails

Harry Caufield

I'm a graduate student. It's hard to admit it publicly. There's always the desire to prove to others that I'm doing useful research for some reason other than ongoing career training. For non-students (or, at least, people who don't consider themselves students right now), grad school can sound like a poor investment, like buying a beach house. Sure, it's a way to take a brief vacation from the world, but will you ever see any return on that investment after the next hurricane season?

That's not really my opinion about graduate studies and I'm not sure what the metaphorical equivalent of a hurricane is in that context. I'm glad to have the opportunity. Last week, I took my exams, and once all the dust had settled and I finally had a solid research project to move ahead with, I had some time to get introspective again.

What hasn't been going well? 

E-mail has been a source of more stress than it should be. It was my primary communication method for a while, and for good reason: a well-organized inbox is a collection of tasks and their context and the people involved in the tasks. E-mail keeps everything in one place and ready for when it's needed.

Karlsruhe, Germany was apparently the site of the first email from Germany to the US.  The @ symbol may be called an Affenschwanz, or monkey's tail, in German. One day, maps will refer to this place as Kaffenschwanzruhe. This image is from StromBer on Wikimedia Commons.

Karlsruhe, Germany was apparently the site of the first email from Germany to the US.  The @ symbol may be called an Affenschwanz, or monkey's tail, in German. One day, maps will refer to this place as Kaffenschwanzruhe. This image is from StromBer on Wikimedia Commons.

The stress I felt about email had little to do with the content of any particular message, though. It was disrupting my attention.  A system intended to hold material until I was ready for it was constantly leaking bits of information in the form of alerts. That's a problem with an easy solution so I just turned them off. Even then, I'd worry about what I was missing. It wasn't just FOMO. I felt like I had an obligation to carefully address every message because the wrong response (and is there ever really a perfect response, other than no response at all?*) could have repercussions in my career. That's especially true for a lowly grad student, right?

I'm beginning to realize that most people don't care. That's a great thing! They'll forgive email typos. They'll forget mistakes. They probably won't notice that I took three hours to get back to them instead of twenty minutes. When I reply to email messages, I'll just focus on the messages rather than trying to fit email in around everything else.  

I'm also going to refrain from apologizing about dull blog posts like this one. Instead, I'm going to link to a clip from an in-development game about procedural architecture and noise pollution and neon cats and mind-reading.  It's by a fellow(?) named Strangethink and the corresponding Twitter feed is an ongoing collection of beautiful oddities.

 

*It's a perfectly bad response. In this flawed system of logic, failing to acknowledge a message is the highest offense.