Unlike my children, I remember a time without email or any form of instantaneous written communication. I grew up looking forward to the daily postal mail delivery or what now is now known as ‘snail mail.’ Birthday cards and written letters were a joy to receive. I would collect cereal box tops and mail them to the cereal company, then await a return letter with coupons or coin money to purchase bananas for my morning cereal.
During college, my mother wrote me weekly letters as long-distance phone calls were expensive. She had terrible handwriting, so she typed her letters on an electric typewriter. I eagerly awaited her letters to receive the latest information about my family and friends. High school friends who attended different universities wrote me letters about their experiences and informed me when they would be back in my hometown to reconnect. I understood that one must write letters to receive letters, so I did my part in exchanging information.
When I interviewed for jobs, I received formal correspondences on corporate letterhead with literature in large manila envelopes. During my senior year, my small campus post box was occasionally stuffed with mail from prospective employers. This all changed once email became popular.
I was first introduced to email in the form of internal corporate communications. This method of communication was primarily for quick, short messages. Presentations and analyses were delivered in-person at meetings. While working in London during the early 2000s, email communications between companies began to blossom. Email was more efficient than phone calls to deliver commercial information. I supported sending and receiving email when this new mode of communications became the standard.
I was once told that ‘if something is good, then people tend to abuse it.’ Email volume grew and I began to carry a blackberry to instantly read and reply to my many emails. Massive distribution lists became the norm to ‘keep everyone in the loop.’ Spam filled my inbox. On Sunday afternoons and evenings, managers downloaded their emails and responded that night. Employees felt obligated to respond immediately. I started to respond to emails during my vacations and eventually was told by my staff that my behavior was not a good example of getting proper rest from work. I think they were concerned about rest for both them and me!
In a recent Financial Times (FT) opinion, We should pull the plug on pointless after-hours emails: In a burnout epidemic, the right to switch off is needed more than ever (Pilita Clark, June 12, 2021), one respondent to a survey of workers wrote: “Emails start at 5:30am and don’t end until 10pm, because they know you have nowhere else to go. For single people with no families it’s worse, because you don’t get to say, ‘I need to go take care of my kids.’” … No wonder governments around the world are facing rising pressure to give workers something long considered a suspect novelty—the right to disconnect.”
A good thing does get abused! The next stage is regulations to protect people. “Workers at the Orange telecoms company in France do not have to answer work messages on the weekend, days off or evenings — or when doing training, spokeswoman said. At other companies, workers returning from vacation can spend a full day catching up on what they missed without having to deal with clients or internal meetings.”
What does this have to do with our faith? God understood humans so completely that God gave the Hebrew nation a third commandment: “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work …” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, NRSV) This was a good commandment that protected the previously enslaved Hebrews. Over time, they developed sabbath laws that defined work to regulate the sabbath commandment since humans tend to find ways to sidestep this commandment. The modern work world has trampled this commandment. Just as in ancient times, work regulations are starting to be created that allow employees to rest, based on the same logic as the third commandment: people need rest.
“Success also relies on workers and managers simply talking to each other, … and using le bons sens, or common sense.” I am amazed at how humans continue to stray away from God’s divine laws only to return after experiencing unbounded life. God gave the third commandment with both common sense and a teleological understanding of our human nature. Work needs to be done for the common good and emails are an effective communication tool. But on the sabbath, I choose not to open my emails and instead turn my thoughts toward the eternal. Instead of draining energy, the sabbath refreshes mind, body, and soul. It also allows time to focus on something far greater than ourselves: an ancient idea that is everlasting.