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The Future of Email




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"I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime." -- Donald Knuth

Stanford University technology professor Lawrence Lessig publicly  declared e-mail bankruptcy a few years ago after being deluged by thousands of e-mails. "I eventually got to be so far behind that I was either going to spend all my time answering e-mails or I was going to do my job," he said. Thereafter, Lessig's correspondents received e-mail equivalents of  Dear John letters: "Dear person who sent me a yet-unanswered e-mail, he wrote, "I apologize, but I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy," he said, adding an apology for his lack of "cyber decency." The term "e-mail bankruptcy" may have been coined as early as 1999 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies the relationship between people and technology. Professor Sherry Turkle said she came up with the concept after researching e-mail and discovering that some people harbor fantasies about escaping their e-mail burden.

2006 "With 34 percent of employees spending anywhere from two to four hours a day on e-mail, the potential for lost productivity is enormous."

2008 Information overload.
"It's gotten to the point where information - which should be useful - has
in some cases become a distraction."According to New York-based research firm Basex Inc., information overload is the "problem of the year." Basex claims that disruptions caused by e-mail, text messages and other incoming data cost large organizations billions of dollars annually in lower productivity and hampered innovation."

The Myth of MultiTasking

The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers.

Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached "startling" levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip.
Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep.
"This is a very real and widespread phenomenon," said Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist from King's College, London University, who carried out 80 clinical trials for TNS research, commissioned by the IT firm Hewlett Packard. The average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users.
The most damage was done, according to the survey, by the almost complete lack of discipline in handling emails. Dr Wilson and his colleagues found a compulsion to reply to each new message, leading to constant changes of direction which inevitably tired and slowed down the brain.
Manners are also going by the board, with one in five of the respondents breaking off from meals or social engagements to receive and deal with messages. Although nine out of 10 agreed that answering messages during face-to-face meetings or office conferences was rude, a third nonetheless felt that this had become "acceptable and seen as a sign of diligence and efficiency". <snip>,12597,1465973,00.html
April 22, 2005

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