"I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address"

I'm no computer programmer, but even I know that Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth is legendary. And now, thanks to his view on email, I'm proud to count him as one of my heroes.

Here's Donald Knuth's awesome relationship to email, which he explained in his website under an article titled Knuth versus Email:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.

If you want to communicate with Knuth, you'd have to do so by snail mail, which he will read and perhaps respond to in about three months:

On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every three months.

Hate snail mail? There's the fax machine, but Knuth added, "be warned that I look at incoming fax mail last, perhaps only once every six months instead of three."

Email, that form of electronic communication, has unfortunately become a public to-do list that anyone can add to. Perhaps Umberto Eco has the best perspective on email when he said, "I don't even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages."

See also: Alphabet of Computing | Fun and Unusual Units of Measurements (where Knuth coined the unusual measurements of potrzebie and whatmeworry).


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