E-mail addiction

Now there is a food for thought while Googling more info about it!


E-mail addiction

I RECENTLY took a short vacation. The very best thing about it was not the lovely walks, the concerts, the tennis, or just lazing and reading. The best thing was being away from e-mail. (And the worst thing was coming back to 482 messages.)

The stuff is like kudzu. I'm not even talking about spam -- the unwanted commercial solicitations for everything from penis enlargements to Nigerian banking scams.

Nor am I complaining about reader responses to my column, which I appreciate. If I weren't reading electronic comments, I'd be absorbing old-fashioned letters.

No, I'm referring to everyday e-mail from people I know -- co-workers, friends, and acquaintances who assume that e-mail is what we do all day.

I find it appalling to sometimes get responses within a minute or two of sending a message. This suggests that the recipient is compulsively checking e-mail all the time. How can these people get any work done? Don't they have anything better to do?

We are becoming a nation of attention-deficit addicts thanks to e-mail. If you are at all prone to procrastination or short attention span, e-mail is the devil's instrument. At the drop of a hat, you can distract yourself and pretend to be doing something productive.

All serious work requires concentration. I don't know about you, but I have two kinds of days. The productive days are the ones when I manage to resist the temptation to check e-mail more than a few times. I actually get things accomplished. The utterly wasted ones are those when I check e-mail every little while. The distraction feeds on itself. You feel busy, and an entire day can go by without getting anything done.

(Excuse me, I have to check e-mail. Ahhh . . . now, where was I?)

E-mail is a time thief. And I'm not even talking about all the other temptations of the Internet, from checking your favorite blog every few minutes, to compulsive Googling, chat rooms, video games, or cyber-porn.

Some people are so tightly scheduled that they don't have time for frequent e-mail breaks -- doctors or schoolteachers, for instance. But these folks aren't home free either. Because of the ubiquity of e-mail that demands responses, they are the poor souls whose mail is logged at 11:52 p.m. or 5:38 in the morning.

Looking at recent e-mails, I can find chains of messages where colleagues and I e-mailed back and forth five or six times to resolve a minor question. This is idiotic.

Remember phones? They're often far more efficient. Questions can be settled on the spot, and the telephone has the further virtue of requiring us to listen to each other, to the tonalities as well as the content. In many ways, the phone is a more advanced form of communication than e-mail because conversation occurs in real time. Imagine that.

E-mail foments multiple discourtesies that are also inefficient. I find that people don't read e-mail messages very carefully (they are too busy skimming the other piled-up messages). People often bang out responses that create hurt feelings and needlessly magnify conflicts. People are cavalier about forwarding e-mail, too, which creates other conflicts. And, because of the universal e-mail excess, we find ourselves trying to do other things while catching up with e-mail.

How many times have you been on a phone call, where long lapses occur on the other end or you are asked to repeat something that was perfectly clear? Granted, checking e-mail while ostensibly participating in a phone call or meeting is not a mortal multitasking sin like, say, thinking about your grocery list while making love. But it isn't polite, and it doesn't exactly improve communication.

E-mail is so facile that it flatters us into thinking we can conduct more relationships -- social, vocational, random--than anyone can competently handle.

For more than a decade, economists have puzzled at the fact that computers were everywhere, making the economy more productive, but that measured productivity wasn't increasing as much as expected. A prime suspect is e-mail proliferation. Computers steal almost as much productivity as they enhance.

So let's admit we have a problem, stop sending so many messages, not respond so instantly, and abstain from cyber-compulsion. We need a 12-step program for e-mail addicts.

Come to think of it, they probably have one on the Internet. Pardon me a moment while I Google it.