My Facebook Friend and Real Life Neighbor, Melynn, asked what I thought
of this LA Times article "You've Got Too Much Email." It took me a
while to answer because, well, I had too much email . . . but, while I
agree about the quantity of info we have to sort in our online lives, I
don't agree with some of its other premises about either the problems
of multitasking distraction or online sociality's destruction of real sociality.
However, this posting will be a quick one, and no doubt error-filled (now that is a problem!) because it is quick, but I have to run because, you guessed it, I have too much email, and also because I'm about to reunite with my ur-Undisclosed Location (as pictured on Facebook, of course). . . so, hastily and with apologies in advance for inevitable typos, here goes:
(1) We all have too much email. True, true, true. But for those of us who hate phones and always have, I'll take the email any day. Really. That said the next Nobel Prize in Technology Innovation should go to the person who figures out the equivalent of an "attentacon" that automatically attaches an image to each email prioritizing its importance. What Semantic Web is to cognition, AI, and search functions, the "attentacon" would be to affective attachments, true obligations, and other forms of social and emotive indicators of attentional priority. Namely: which of these emails do I think that I need to answer first. Forget the little red exclamation mark the boss appends (although, believe me, I would pay attention to that one!). I want an automated system that sorts all my email according to my internal emotional temperature and the material impingements of everyday life. As I said, that one gets the Nobel Prize.
(2) Email means our attention is constantly interrupted. We're less productive. Actually, all studies I know shows there is nothing that contributes more to lack of productivity than monotony. We're even learning that a monotonous job shortens your life. Truly. Two people, same economic status, one owns his own business and works 90 hours a week and one works two shifts, on the line, no autonomy, boring work, and she too works 90 hours a week. Life expectancy for the first person is about seven years longer. Boredom kills. Also, as Howard Rheingold shows in his amazing experiments when he teaches social networking (close your cell phone, close your laptop, close your eyes: he has students spend the first five minutes with their eyes closed examining where their brain goes: it isn't in a straight line and on one thought!), it takes enormous energy not to be diverted. Diversion is relaxing, reviving, refreshing. It renews synaptic connections, springs up that much-vaunted and necessary neural plasticity. I don't think multi-distraction (as I cause it) is a bad thing at all. We thrive on it. And we need to learn when we want and need distraction. The key here, as in all things (see, Mama told you this!) is self-control and self-determination about when to be distracted. It's a good thing, but be strategic about it.
(3) All this social connection means we are lonely. Bull! Living in a hyper-surveilled society where we restrict our kids' privacy, their imaginative life, their physical movement, everything, with day cares and camps and play dates and terror of strangers and surveillance in schools, and policing and on and on and on. If it weren't for the Internet, where would we be in our frightened, post 9-11 paranoid worlds? What privacy would kids have it it weren't for online? How would they interact with their friends? How would they see new worlds? I just don't buy any of the reductionist scenarios about this. There are downsides, but most of the downsides we're bombarded with by pundits don't make sense and posit some nostalgic pre-Internet world that isn't about the Internet but about the conditions of sociality in our crazy workaholic paranoid world. Technology is always blamed for anti-social behavior. Mass printing was in the 18th century, radio was, tv was . . . and now the Internet. I'm not buying it.
Now, back to a hundred emails . . .
Reposted from the Los Angeles Times:
From the Los Angeles Times
You've got too much e-mail
a growing backlash against our growing in-boxes. A new crop of
entrepreneurs has sprung up with antidotes -- some of which create more
By Leslie Brenner
July 31, 2008
It happened with cigarettes. It happened with red meat. And carbs. And SUVs.
And now it's happening with e-mail. The preferred communication channel of millions of Americans is no longer cool.
According to a growing number of academics, "technologists" and
Technology geeks who not long ago were comparing the size of their
Behind the e-mail backlash is a growing perception that, despite its
"It chases you," says Natalie Firstenberg, a Los Angeles therapist who
Timothy Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," says that what's
"E-mail is used as a self-validation tool by people to
Tantek Celik, a computer scientist who has worked for Microsoft, Sun
As legions of "knowledge workers" vacation this summer, the
Meanwhile, e-mail, long hailed as a timesaving boon, has taken over the
According to a report to be published in October by the New York-based
On top of that is what Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira refers to as
Susan Jamison, 48, a commercial litigation partner at Coblentz, Patch,
"If it's a multi-party case, it may generate maybe 20 e-mails from
Even her phone calls show up on-screen as e-mails when she's already on a call. How can she focus enough to write a brief?
E-mail backlash started in earnest last year with "no e-mail" Fridays
More recently, the movement accelerated as a new organization,
"We all felt that information overload was something that was such
Ironically, a number of the group's members work for the companies that
It's also one of the worst culprits in a growing global lack of focus,
"We're highly connected," Jackson says, "yet we're connecting in
Nor is e-mail always friendly -- it can be confrontational in a way that talking usually isn't.
"If we're having feelings with someone else that we need to
Even if the e-mail is friendly, there's still risk of offense if the
"Less than half a day goes by and you'll get an e-mail saying,
According to Jackson, information overload is not just making life at
"We're so overloaded by information bites that we're less and less
Historically, dark ages have sometimes been periods of technical
Lately, a mini-industry has sprung up around finding solutions to
Another program, Xobni ("in-box" backward) determines the "hot zones"
Then there are those who are just throwing up their hands. Case in
Lessig could not be reached for comment -- not even by e-mail.
--Special thanks to Michael Bolinger for posting this image of One Laptop Per Child on Flickr. Please click on the image for his entire photostream and full documentation.