Invasion of the Business Snatchers

Is that a gargoyle on your back or just your email inbox?

I’m talking about email, of course.

John Freeman has written a polemic called “The Tyranny of E-mail” that will gladden the hearts of any corporate worker – from entry level to the C-suite – who have seen their stress levels increase and their job duties eroded by email.  Take a glance at some of the startling statistics compiled in the book (the primary sources are outlined in the book) :

  • By 2011 there will be 3.2 billion people using email.  That’s nearly half of the 6.6 billion people on earth.
  • In 2007, 35 trillion (that’s with a “T”) were exchanged among the world’s one billion PCs.
  • 600 million emails are sent every 10 seconds.
  • 90 percent of Internet users use email.
  • The average corporate worker in 2009 spent more than 40 percent of their work day sending and receiving email.
  • The average corporate worker sends and receives 200 emails a day – a figure that keeps increasing exponentially.
  • Informational overload from email and the Internet costs the U.S. economy $650 billion every single year.
  • People misunderstand the tone of an email 50 percent of the time.
  • In 2001, 14 million U.S. workers (about 35 percent of the employees online at the time) had their email under surveillance by their companies.
  • Blackberry was launch in 1999 with one million users.  In 2009, the number of user had exploded to 28.7 million (and this doesn’t include people using other smart phones like the iPhone).

Freeman argues that email has poisoned the workplace with a constant ping of interruption.  Offices have become cocoons of cubicles where workers send email to each other rather than get up and speak to each other or even pick up the phone and call.  In this climate of constant email distraction, it is difficult for any corporate worker to get long stretches of time to work on projects, write reports and proposals, or do any work that requires concentration.

What happens as a result is that many workers come in early or stay late in order to get real work done when email traffic is lighter.  This is because the actual work day is now a period of meetings (and conference calls) or answering or responding to invading hordes of email.

Freeman makes a compelling case that email isolates workers, increases stress (and therefore overall health), and erodes civility and discourse.

That’s a big ugly load for email.

Freeman doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the advantages of instant communications or the ability to share information and documents at a click of a mouse.  Nor does he explore why email is taking up more than 40 percent of a corporate workers time (it might be because communicating and planning is what corporate workers do).  But this is a diatribe not even-handed journalism.

But it is a great read.  And at the end of the book, Freeman does provide practical advice for controlling your inbox and how to think twice before sending out an email.

One gets the feeling that Freeman is on to something, but that it may be way too late to do anything about email overload.  Kind of like screaming at a tornado in hopes that it will listen to your instructions not to destroy your house.

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2 Responses to “Invasion of the Business Snatchers”

  1. Coworkers of mine will lament time to time about not being able to reach so and so. I always ask: Did you call her? Did you try walking upstairs? Almost always, the answer is no. I expect this problem to only get worse as younger, more wired workers replace the phone and face-to-face generation.

  2. Hi Dan:
    How right you are. I find myself saying the same thing as your co-workers and then realizing that the person I’m trying to reach is about two doors down!

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