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During 2012, the world’s 2.2 billion email users sent an average of 144 billion emails per day. A staggering 68.8 per cent of that email traffic was spam. The average email user gets 147 messages per day and deletes 71 (48%) of those messages. Office workers are estimated to spend around 28 per cent of their working day sending and receiving e-mails.

Fortune Magazine cites Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, who suggests why email management has grown from zero hours per week to 28 per cent of a person’s time in a generation. “Email is such a seductress in terms of distraction because it poses as valid work,” he posits, and this gives rise to avoidance behaviour. 

Let’s say that you are meant to be working on a business proposal, but don’t feel like doing that. So you put off doing something you know you should be doing for something else – like checking your inbox. “If you could get away with watching TV, you probably would instead of writing that proposal, but you probably can’t, so instead you check email,” Bregman says.

Email is a double-edged sword leaving users both empowered and overwhelmed. The flood of messages is ceaseless and email has irrevocably changed our world. We need to “shut down, switch off and reconnect” with real people according to John Freeman, author of Shrinking the world: The 4000-year story of how email came to rule our lives

He proposes we try and separate ourselves from the inbox which for many has become an “electronic fidget”. The compulsion to check our inboxes is akin to poker machine addiction. “Email is addictive in the same way that slot machines are addictive,” says Freeman. The upshot, he warns, is that “we spend less time dealing face-to-face with other human beings and more time before a machine playing e-mail ping-pong” (italics mine).

Citing a survey conducted in England, Freeman reveals that “77 percent of office workers and company owners agree that email downtime causes major stress at work”. Some psychologists are pushing to have “Internet Addiction” classified as a clinical disorder. 

According to Freeman, 65 per cent of Americans spend more time with their computer than their spouse. “The computer and email were sold to us as tools of liberation, but they have actually inhibited our ability to conduct our lives mindfully,” he laments. 

He goes on to say that cafés used to be filled with people talking to one another or reading books or newspapers. Nowadays, you will find people sitting alone before the glowing screen of their laptop, typing emails, working on documents and chatting with friends online.

Freeman sees electronic messages as “completely devoid of sensuality,” noting that we misunderstand the tone of emails 50 per cent of the time. This is not a surprise, says Freeman, as “there is no face on the other end to … indicate that what we are in the process of saying is rude, not comprehended or cruel”. 

The growing absence of face-to-face communication has given rise to cyber crime. Freeman identifies phishing, spam, cyber-bullying and ID theft as examples of miscreant activities. He also identifies a new form of narcissism, egosurfing, in which “one searches the Internet for information about oneself”.

Like Freeman, I believe that between the carrier pigeon and the inbox, communication lost its personality. While I’m not suggesting we go back to smoke signals, there’s still a place for phone and face-to-face communication. The tone and inflection of your voice and the smile on your face means it’s less likely the receiver will misinterpret your message. Try it!

Paul J. Thomas


Posted Monday, November 17, 2014    View Comments 0 Comments    Make a Comment Make a comment  

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