Innovation or bust
Using video, animation and other alternatives to traditional methods of communication may have been new for Jones’
students inside the classroom, but in their
social lives, it’s commonplace.
“Part of the inspiration for me in giving
up email was to notice that my students
were, in many cases, very happy to find me
on IM or Facebook,” says Jones, who added
that many students long ago gave up old-school tools like Microsoft Word for the
more collaborative (and free) Google Docs.
“And the other reason I gave it up was frustration, dissatisfaction. Humans are alive
because we remember pain, not because we
remember pleasure. I try to throw myself
into the new thing, because the only way
you innovate is to jump into the unknown
pain and see how to experience it.
“For me, it’s about the great John Cage
quote: ‘I can’t understand why people are
frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of
the old ones.’ ”
This summer, Jones will lead a SILS
credit program in London, the planning
for which presented the biggest challenge
yet to his brave new no-email world — a
glimpse into the logistical barriers that his
detractors on the topic often note.
“They run the whole damn thing by
email,” Jones says of the program, which
will host students of varied ages — including
the over- 50 demographic who mostly don’t
carry smartphones, let alone spend time on
social networking sites, unless to connect
with grandchildren or grown offspring.
Jones hopes his proposal to set up a private
Facebook group, where schedules and maps
can be viewed and discussion can take place
among participants, will provide the answer.
He figures that if his friend and no-email hero, Luis Suarez, can lead the
charge on the corporate front, he can lead
the charge on the academic. Three years
ago, Suarez convinced his employer, a little
company called IBM, that he could work
remotely from his home in the Canary
Islands by ditching corporate email for
social networking platforms. Not only was
he successful, but he lost 30 pounds walking around the island in the time he used
to spend managing his email messages.
For Jones, that’s about as convincing as
it gets — that, and the looming future of
communication. A 2010 comScore study
on digital trends showed a 59 percent
decline in Web email use among 12- to
Many people couldn’t understand why
they would want to read or store information digitally when Jones started SunSITE.
Now we rarely go a day without doing so.
And streaming entertainment to a personal computer? That was once science
fiction, too. Hello, Hulu.
If no-email succeeds, it won’t be the
first time Jones turned a curse poem into a
“Oh, I know that people will eventually see his point on not using email,”
“And it won’t be so far in the future
when we see it happen.”
“I’m sure that email will be a fading
trend from now on,” adds Jim Fullton,
“and that Paul will still be out in front of
all of us, like he always is.”
So maybe the solution to put email out
of business is not there for everyone, not
yet. But if anybody can find a way to shut
down the Nigerian banks, send away the
sketchy pharmaceuticals and put the phony
Rolex salesmen back on the city streets
where they belong, it’s Paul Jones. Don’t
bet against him. It may take a geek poet to
do it, but Prometheus may yet be rescued
from his rock.
BETH MCNICHOL ’ 95 is a freelance writer
and former associate editor of the Review.
pain, not because
pleasure. I try
to throw myself
into the new
the only way
is to jump into
pain and see how
to experience it.’
STEVE EXUM ’ 92