Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What To Do with Email Overload

Here's a question for you. What percentage of the email you receive is actually important to you? If you're like me, about 20% of my emails are really significant and need to be responded to. Well . . maybe I don't need to respond that day and maybe not 25% . . .

When Wall Street Journal readers were asked "What proportion of the emails you receive at work are actually important to you?" 43% of respondents admitted only 1/4 of their emails at work are important.

What does this say about us? Are we just filling up our email boxes with written distractions?

In a Wall Street Journal article entitled, Email's Friendly Fire," Rebecca Buckman lays out the sad state of cyber mail:

"Email overload is now considered a much bigger workplace problem than traditional email spam. Inboxes are bulging today partly because of what some are calling "colleague spam" -- that is, too many people are indiscriminately hitting the "reply to all" button or copying too many people on trivial messages, like inviting 100 colleagues to partake of brownies in the kitchen. A good chunk of today's emails are also coming from brand new sources, like social- and business-networking sites like Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp., or text messages forwarded from cellphones"

But supposedly there's hope because now we can purchase email software that will help us deal with our email overload:

"Unlike previous email-technology companies that only addressed problems like external email spam or offered narrow products that screened messages for certain content, new companies are now springing up to deal with the email-overload problem and help sort the deluge. Silicon Valley start-ups including ClearContext of San Francisco and Seriosity Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., are specifically tackling the problem of internal email overload. Meanwhile, other start-ups like San Francisco's Xobni Corp., are trying to help people better organize and search the email and personal-contact load they already have."

Our sad state of affairs is expressed in the same WSJ article: "Last year, the average corporate email user received 126 messages a day, up 55% from 2003, according to the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto market research firm. By 2009, workers are expecting to spend 41% of their time just managing emails"

I actually don't want software that will place my emails in separate folders so I don't need to see certain correspondences. Just the fact that I know the folder exists is enough to drive me crazy. What if there are 200 emails in that folder? Am I suppose to feel good about that?

What I do need is a program that will stop unnecessary emails from ever entering my inbox.

Do I really need to receive all those Fw:Fw:Fw's? if we can just get people to stop sending recycled stupid jokes, chain emails and warnings about computer viruses, we might slim down our email intake.

All this emailing, even if it is ever resolved, has got to take a toll on your soul. Do I want to spend 40% of my workday corresponding?

But this email overload carries into our homes and social lives outside of work.
Well-meaning individual depend on emails to make dinner plans and appointments. They assume everyone is glued to their laptop just waiting to clap with glee when an email comes in.

The time spent at home reading emails and responding to them can be put to better use.

But what is the real problem with our e-overload? Too much email dehumanizes us.

Do you know the feeling you get when you call customer service, and you are forced to transverse through an endless menu and you are dying to a hold of a living human? Sometimes in this e- and i-world, it's nice to hear a human voice. I am fearful that all this email is pushing us further away from one another as we speak with virtual beings through the words, "You've Got Mail!"

Yet, I have made a choice to join the e-generation through AOL, Earthlink, Gmail and Yahoo.com.

I will still check my emails 25 times a day. I will still answer mostly all of my personal emails. However, I have to stop and ask whether I am losing something precious in the process. It's true I write to more people than I ever have in my life. That's a plus. I can shorten business transactions and correspondences because of emails. That's also a plus. So I cannot complain too much.

However, I still want to need the sound of a human voice. But most of all, I want to hear silence. The silence of God's analog voice above the cyber-din. With God I know He'll never resort to email and that He'll never send me a Fw:Fw:Fw of the Book of Jonah. God is our last hope to enjoy the simplicity and beauty of being a human. Only in God's presence can I find the stillness that brings rest of my soul. God's touch in my life is personal and never spammed to a million other people. He knows me and my needs and hurts.

What can we do? Keep it simple.

Take a week off from emailing. Stop filling up each other's inboxes with email "television" . . . . wasting time flipping through silly correspondences that deluge us daily.

You may not be able to control your email activity at work, but at home it's another story.

Keep on reading literature that does not appear on your computer screen. Poetry. Classical lit. Poignant newspaper articles. Keep on enjoying non-computer generated art. Allow yourself to be bathed in the beauty of an afternoon Sunday string quartet concert. Learn a musical instrument. Write. Be creative.

Remember the beauty of life that once existed outside the internet. That world still exists.

Stay alive. Stay human. Keep in touch with your own soul and the beauty of what God has placed within your tired, spammed frame.

BTW: my email address is . . . .

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