A correspondent used the term Emailyama* a few days ago. I admire his ability to defer looking at email at all for what seems to be long periods — many days — and replying to serious message even less often, after a considerable length of time. Like me, he has chosen not to subscribe to a data plan for his mobile phone and has just simple voice service on it. I believe I can learn to do what he does to avoid the Emailyama. Of course, when you leave email alone for a while, it accumulates. Is the Emailyama stronger or weaker then? A puzzle. But it is better to face him on your own terms and at times of your own choosing.
The period when I have done without email for the longest — I mean, when I had regular access to email but chose not to use it — was when I was finishing my dissertation some 15 years ago. I allowed myself 20 minutes, twice a day, for all internet access unconnected to my research. I didn't really miss it. I also took two hour-long walks every day, regardless of weather, at that time.
During my fieldwork trips I almost never had email; an American friend let me use his account occasionally when I was in the same city he was, but it was a minor part of my life — I spent a lot more time watching the early-morning slaughtering of pigs (to learn the names of butchering processes and body parts) and trying to make accurate records of dialect idioms, improvised dialect songs (shān'gē 山歌) of very old farm women, names of local plants and places, and secret language. Email would have seemed a terrific bore in comparison with those things.
* Yama is the king of hell in Vedic lore; his Chinese form is the Yánluówáng 閻羅王.