My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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I AM OFFLINE! On Email Sabbatical from December 9 – January 12

I am offline, taking a deeply needed break while traveling. During the duration of my break, no email will be received by my computer. All email sent to me during this period will be redirected to /dev/null (aka “the trash”). If you send me a message during this period, I will never receive it and never respond to it. If you need to contact me, please send your email after January 12. If it is urgent and you know how to reach my mother, I will be in touch with her every few days. But I am intentionally unreachable during this period. Please respect that a girl needs a break and this is mine.


Credit: Betta Design

Background on Email Sabbaticals…

Years ago, I realized that there was no way to take a vacation and manage the always-on, always-in-contact lifestyle that technology affords. Initially, I thought that it’d be possible to simply ignore email while on vacation and deal with it afterwards but I realized that this was untenable. It takes months to catch up on thousands of emails and I’d come back and immediately burn out again trying to catch up. I’d end up declaring email bankruptcy, thereby failing everyone who contacted me because of my delinquency. I knew that I needed a different strategy.

I decided to start taking email sabbaticals as a systematic and respectful way of publicly communicating my boundaries. Six months before vacation, I let close collaborators and colleagues know that I intend to be wholly offline during a set of collectively known dates. A month before I leave, I write out to everyone that I work with to make sure that we all know what I need to accomplish before I leave and make sure that we have a check list to get it all done. I also publicly blog that I will be departing, letting everyone else know that they should get in touch if they’re going to need something from me. A week before, I message out again warning people. In this way, I systematically make sure that I take care of others’ needs before I depart. Communication is key to an email sabbatical. Disappearing without properly making certain that everyone has what they need is irresponsible and disrespectful.

When I am on vacation, I am confident that I have taken care of my responsibilities before I left. I have contingency plans set up for anything I can predict might happen while I’m away. I make sure that my brother, mother, sysadmin, and housesitters all know how to reach me in case of an emergency. But most importantly, I know that my email spool is not filling up with a big To Do list that will haunt me when I’m gone. Do I miss things while I’m on vacation? Most certainly. Inevitably, I will receive numerous emails from journalists covering year-end stories about teens, people wanting me to review journal articles, students wanting help with their term papers, and perhaps an invitation or two. I do feel guilty not personally responding to these people to say that I’m unavailable but that’s precisely the point. I need to let go in order to truly take a break and refresh. Are there going to be people pissed off at me because I’m on vacation? Sure. But I’m also used to getting pissed off emails everyday from all sorts of people yelling at me for my attempt to explain teen life. Part of me feels a guilty pleasure knowing that I will never see 5 weeks worth of angry emails.

The advantage of an email sabbatical is that I can truly take time and decompress and ease back into everyday life in January without an overwhelming and unmanageable list of To Dos. Personally, I think it’s a whole lot more respectful to preemptively and openly communicate that I need a break than to screw up and declare bankruptcy when everything crumbles. But maybe that’s just me. I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking that I’m a royal bitch for saying enough. Or think that I’m a privileged brat for being able to carve out time for myself. Personally, I think that we all need to start looking inwards and understanding our limitations and articulating our boundaries. Breaks aren’t a bad thing; they’re a fundamentally important way to refresh. I know that I will be a far better scholar when I return than I am right now because I’m too burnt out to think straight. I need this break. And I bet you do too. And taking a long weekend isn’t the same as taking a serious break. Which is why I’ve been saving all of my vacation days so that I could take a serious pause.

Anyhow, I wish you a happy December. Chag sameach, happy holidays! And please, for your sake and mine, take some time for yourself. {{hug}}

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19 comments to I AM OFFLINE! On Email Sabbatical from December 9 – January 12

  • All hail the great thinker leading us to greater understanding, she is the new media messiah. May your time off bring new insights. You most ardent undeclared student.

  • Amrita

    What a great idea. I’ve done many unplugged vacations but never thought of having the emails go to trash at that time. Have a great break!

  • Wow! That’s tomorrow! I so envy your ability to do this for that amount of time! It must be so refreshing to reflect, absorb and just live. I don’t think anyone has to research the psychological benefits to doing this!

    Have a great trip. I’m jealous..:P

  • Enjoy!

    Happy Holidays!

    Looking forward to more of your wisdom and insights in the new year

  • fred

    Inspiring initiative.

  • jeremy slawson

    Cobblers. If I am away on vacation I am not available to email. Where did this stupid idea that we are contactable 24/7 365 come from? That goes for out of hours contact as well. Whats the matter with you people? Are you slaves or free human beings. This pandering to the idea that our free time belongs to our work is wrong wrong wrong. Stop it already.

  • Brilliant! I’ve never quite been able to take it this far in the past, but you’d better believe I’m trying this out this year. Thanks for sharing this fantastic suggestion.

  • Nico Veenkamp

    I have done this for the past two years. The only negative remark so far has been from my manager. So his mail is the only that is kept. The rest is moved to trash.

  • Rose

    I think this is a wonderful idea but I would have to set up an auto-responder to tell people that their mail has been automatically deleted and that they need to resend it.

  • nitpicker

    Great! She’s gone…let’s talk about her.

  • I completely agree and very well said. You need that time. It is important for everyone to do something like this.

  • Great post and I think more people should try to pry themselves away from email during vacations even if they do it gradually. As you note, you can plan for a lot of this. Enjoy the quiet time.

  • Tyler

    While I think anyone can acknowledge the value of “going off the grid” from time to time, this reaction seems extreme and frankly, pointless. What benefit is truly gained by outright deleting emails, rather than just dealing with them later? If this is truly your attitude, why not simply delete all emails all the time? I’m sorry, but coming back from a vacation and finding that you have things to catch up on (emails or otherwise) is part of life! The implicit statement that other people’s time is not important, paired with the the really patronizing attitude of “wow, everyone should really think about doing this” is very grating.

  • Vasanth

    Happy holidays and enjoy your time.
    Really a though provoking idea.
    If you visit India. Please visit Mysore.

  • Chris Hoofnagle

    Let’s all post our email to you in this thread

  • This really is the best way to go on vacations. When I go on a real vacation (i.e. 10 days or longer), I set my auto-reply to read something like “I’m on vacation until _______. My backup contact during my absence is _________. Please note that while I am away all my received email will be automatically deleted. For any urgent matters, please send me an email upon my return. Thanks, Abbas”

    When I get back from my relaxing trip, email sifting is the last thing on my mind.

    Abbas.

  • A Great Idea not to have to go through emails for a Peaceful Holiday Season Enjoyment!!!
    All The Best

  • Danny

    Brilliant!

    See you on your travels (at HICSS, perhaps). But I have no way now to know if you will be there till I see your face :-)

  • have a peaceful time for yourself.

    i get to your post via a mention of your name in “Mediactive”.

    warm regards from Colombia.

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