E-mail: Escape from Being Fully Present?

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, provides some fascinating statistics about e-mail addiction and information overload on his Web site.

Crackberry

He says,

66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day.

61% continue to check email while on vacation.

56% have anxiety if they can’t access email.

“Crackberry” was the official winner of the 2006 Word-of-the-Year as selected by the editorial staff of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Blackberry addiction has been labeled “similar to drugs” in a study performed by Rutgers University; millions of users are now able unable to go more than five minutes without checking e-mail.

According to online surveys of more than 4,000 people, conducted jointly by AOL and the Opinion Research Corporation and reported in 2005:

41% of Americans check e-mail first thing in the morning

  • 18% check e-mail right after dinner
  • 14% check e-mail right when they get home from work
  • 14% check e-mail right before they go to bed
  • 40% have checked their e-mail in the middle of the night

More than one in four (26%) say they can’t go more than two to three days without checking email, and they check it everywhere:

  • In bed—23%
  • In class—12%
  • In business meetings—8%
  • At the beach or pool—6%
  • In the bathroom—4%
  • While driving—4%
  • In church—1%
  • I don’t know about you, but I find this disturbing. It is almost like we will do anything rather than be fully present where we are. Something to think about.

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  • Dean

    There is some kind of "twitch" factor at work here that goes beyond being in touch. I think it might be fueled chiefly by fear but that seems extreme and probably not nuanced enough to capture the dynamics. It is a paradox because if you asked people most would likely say they hate what you describe, but can't find a way out. In any event I know I watch my e-mail less than some but more than is really at the balance for productivity.

    Enjoyed your comments as always.

  • Dean

    There is some kind of “twitch” factor at work here that goes beyond being in touch. I think it might be fueled chiefly by fear but that seems extreme and probably not nuanced enough to capture the dynamics. It is a paradox because if you asked people most would likely say they hate what you describe, but can’t find a way out. In any event I know I watch my e-mail less than some but more than is really at the balance for productivity.

    Enjoyed your comments as always.

  • http://www.jennismith.net/wordpress Jen Smith

    I am happy not to be one of the people in those statistics. I don't have a blackberry, nor do I have my email forwarded to my cell phone. As for that pesky cell phone, it doesn't get a signal at my home so it doesn't ring when I'm there.

    And the real kicker: I don't keep a computer at home. I have a computer at my 2 offices and that is enough (I work 5 days for the Parable Group, and 1 day for my Dad who is a Realtor). When I am home, I am unplugged (well, mostly unplugged, I still have my iPod nano); however, I am not unreachable at home. I have a land line for emergencies, and that is sufficient.

    I know not everyone can live like this, and I am grateful to God for this gift, but I still think more people ought to give it a try. Technology should serve mankind, not make slaves of them.

  • http://www.jennismith.net/wordpress Jen Smith

    I am happy not to be one of the people in those statistics. I don’t have a blackberry, nor do I have my email forwarded to my cell phone. As for that pesky cell phone, it doesn’t get a signal at my home so it doesn’t ring when I’m there.

    And the real kicker: I don’t keep a computer at home. I have a computer at my 2 offices and that is enough (I work 5 days for the Parable Group, and 1 day for my Dad who is a Realtor). When I am home, I am unplugged (well, mostly unplugged, I still have my iPod nano); however, I am not unreachable at home. I have a land line for emergencies, and that is sufficient.

    I know not everyone can live like this, and I am grateful to God for this gift, but I still think more people ought to give it a try. Technology should serve mankind, not make slaves of them.

  • http://www.spudlets.com/ Marc Velazquez

    This goes back to what you were describing in other posts about being engaged in the task at hand. People think they are "multitasking" when they are actually switching between tasks. If they are not totally engaged on a specific job, then they may not care about being interrupted: "Oh, it only takes ten seconds to look at an e-mail and move it to an appropriate folder …"

    The computer age has elevated information/data in importance, and those who get the best information the quickest and act upon it effectively are the "kings of commerce". Missing an e-mail could mean missing an opportunity.

    As I wrote in a previous comment, the increased use of Bluetooth earpieces is creating a Borg-like collective. How much longer until people have an implant on (in?) their head to process phone calls, e-mails and RSS feeds automatically?

  • http://www.spudlets.com Marc Velazquez

    This goes back to what you were describing in other posts about being engaged in the task at hand. People think they are “multitasking” when they are actually switching between tasks. If they are not totally engaged on a specific job, then they may not care about being interrupted: “Oh, it only takes ten seconds to look at an e-mail and move it to an appropriate folder …”

    The computer age has elevated information/data in importance, and those who get the best information the quickest and act upon it effectively are the “kings of commerce”. Missing an e-mail could mean missing an opportunity.

    As I wrote in a previous comment, the increased use of Bluetooth earpieces is creating a Borg-like collective. How much longer until people have an implant on (in?) their head to process phone calls, e-mails and RSS feeds automatically?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/PeteNikolai Pete Nikolai

    The concept of presence is one that few consider, and it seems appropriate in this discussion. Are we trying to establish our presence in the lives of those with whom we are corresponding? Do they perceive that presence or relationship as being improved because we are providing that ongoing intermittent communication? Is it worth the decrease in our presence in our immediate physical world to increase our presence in those remote relationships? Have we communicated our intentions to the significant individuals with whom we physically relate so that appropriate expectations have been established?

    Perhaps these questions have been considered, we have answered in the affirmative to each question, and we have decided to establish a new paradigm for relating. If we have consciously considered the issues and made that decision then we may simply be exercising our free will, and perhaps this is just another cog in the machine of human progress. As with the development of most addictions, dependencies, and instances of cultural decay, the problem seems to be that the behavior pattern has been established without conscious intention on our part. Without intention, we are not truly human and life devolves into mere existence.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/PeteNikolai Pete Nikolai

    The concept of presence is one that few consider, and it seems appropriate in this discussion. Are we trying to establish our presence in the lives of those with whom we are corresponding? Do they perceive that presence or relationship as being improved because we are providing that ongoing intermittent communication? Is it worth the decrease in our presence in our immediate physical world to increase our presence in those remote relationships? Have we communicated our intentions to the significant individuals with whom we physically relate so that appropriate expectations have been established?

    Perhaps these questions have been considered, we have answered in the affirmative to each question, and we have decided to establish a new paradigm for relating. If we have consciously considered the issues and made that decision then we may simply be exercising our free will, and perhaps this is just another cog in the machine of human progress. As with the development of most addictions, dependencies, and instances of cultural decay, the problem seems to be that the behavior pattern has been established without conscious intention on our part. Without intention, we are not truly human and life devolves into mere existence.

  • M.L. Eqatin

    When I read this, I saw myself. The emial habit has crept up on me slowly, but it is now entrenched.
    Perhaps this is a reflection on how easily bored we are as a society. We are so used to being entertained, from audiobooks to TV and print books, that we no longer stop to really process what is in our heads or a friend's. Especially if it is the garrulous old neighbor, or your brother's Down Syndrome child. We seek some more instant stimulation to amuse our shallow self, and in doing so become a little shallower. Like Sesame street, which was geared to a 2-year-old attention span. Later studies found that while it helped that age learn, it kept older shildren from expanding their ability to concentrate.
    Hey, I gotta go. Oscar the grouch just popped out of his trash can.

  • M.L. Eqatin

    When I read this, I saw myself. The emial habit has crept up on me slowly, but it is now entrenched.
    Perhaps this is a reflection on how easily bored we are as a society. We are so used to being entertained, from audiobooks to TV and print books, that we no longer stop to really process what is in our heads or a friend’s. Especially if it is the garrulous old neighbor, or your brother’s Down Syndrome child. We seek some more instant stimulation to amuse our shallow self, and in doing so become a little shallower. Like Sesame street, which was geared to a 2-year-old attention span. Later studies found that while it helped that age learn, it kept older shildren from expanding their ability to concentrate.
    Hey, I gotta go. Oscar the grouch just popped out of his trash can.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/blog Lawrence

    I notice this most when sitting in an airport. Everybody there is engaged … but not with anyone around them. Cell phones, iPods, compact DVD players seem to make us less present … or present elsewhere.

    Hmm.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/blog Lawrence

    I notice this most when sitting in an airport. Everybody there is engaged … but not with anyone around them. Cell phones, iPods, compact DVD players seem to make us less present … or present elsewhere.

    Hmm.

  • http://www.businesssanityblog.com/ Susan Martin

    It IS disturbing! Both from a personal productivity standpoint, but also from the perspective of being present, it's so dead on…what has happened to us? Excuse my ranting but…

    Do we no longer value human interaction or respect others and their time?

    Before cell phones and blackberries, people would rarely interrupt conversations or meetings to tend to something else. Now, it's rare to have a conversation or attend a meeting when all are really present.

    What is it about technology which "permits" us to behave this way?

    I have to say (again) that to me, it comes back to boundaries.

    If we want to increase our personal productivity and downtime, we need to set limits on our interation with technology.

    If we respect human interaction, we have to set boundaries in place for ourselves and others that support it:

    It's not OK to take calls on your cell phone when speaking with others.

    It's not OK to play on your blackberry when in a meeting.

    If you're going to interact with someone, show them and yourself some respect by really being present.

    Otherwise, why bother?

  • http://www.businesssanityblog.com Susan Martin

    It IS disturbing! Both from a personal productivity standpoint, but also from the perspective of being present, it’s so dead on…what has happened to us? Excuse my ranting but…

    Do we no longer value human interaction or respect others and their time?

    Before cell phones and blackberries, people would rarely interrupt conversations or meetings to tend to something else. Now, it’s rare to have a conversation or attend a meeting when all are really present.

    What is it about technology which “permits” us to behave this way?

    I have to say (again) that to me, it comes back to boundaries.

    If we want to increase our personal productivity and downtime, we need to set limits on our interation with technology.

    If we respect human interaction, we have to set boundaries in place for ourselves and others that support it:

    It’s not OK to take calls on your cell phone when speaking with others.

    It’s not OK to play on your blackberry when in a meeting.

    If you’re going to interact with someone, show them and yourself some respect by really being present.

    Otherwise, why bother?

  • http://thetalkingtoaster.blogspot.com/ Lisa Rollins

    I find that I am so used to be over-stimulated by information coming at me from all directions and that I'm so accustomed to having a To Do list a mile long (even on the weekends) that I actually feel a little at odds when, for instance, I'm sitting at Movies in the Park on a blanket in the middle of a crowd, waiting for the show to begin. Other people are there with friends and family, or talking on their cell phones, or reading a book. I am just there by myself, on a blanket, doing nothing. I find it surprising that I don't know how to handle that, but it seems that relaxing, absorbing the present, and being content in the moment are very challenging for me. I am much more comfortable (though also more stressed out) in a world of distraction. Ironically, if I run into someone I know in this scenario, I am completely distracted by what else is going on around me, but if I am sitting by myself, the same environment seems kind of boring.

    I think this is a modern-day philosophical challenge: how to we truly focus on one thing and engage with whomever or whatever is before us? What are the steps to learning to do this again? And what are the benefits? Does it really pay off in the long run?

    I can say that some of my most relaxed times are hiking in the middle of the woods — no phones, no computers, no people — so I know that disconnection does work for me on some level. But when I'm in the middle of nature, I also think I feel much more connected to God, and maybe that's part of the peaceful feeling.

  • http://thetalkingtoaster.blogspot.com/ Lisa Rollins

    I find that I am so used to be over-stimulated by information coming at me from all directions and that I’m so accustomed to having a To Do list a mile long (even on the weekends) that I actually feel a little at odds when, for instance, I’m sitting at Movies in the Park on a blanket in the middle of a crowd, waiting for the show to begin. Other people are there with friends and family, or talking on their cell phones, or reading a book. I am just there by myself, on a blanket, doing nothing. I find it surprising that I don’t know how to handle that, but it seems that relaxing, absorbing the present, and being content in the moment are very challenging for me. I am much more comfortable (though also more stressed out) in a world of distraction. Ironically, if I run into someone I know in this scenario, I am completely distracted by what else is going on around me, but if I am sitting by myself, the same environment seems kind of boring.

    I think this is a modern-day philosophical challenge: how to we truly focus on one thing and engage with whomever or whatever is before us? What are the steps to learning to do this again? And what are the benefits? Does it really pay off in the long run?

    I can say that some of my most relaxed times are hiking in the middle of the woods — no phones, no computers, no people — so I know that disconnection does work for me on some level. But when I’m in the middle of nature, I also think I feel much more connected to God, and maybe that’s part of the peaceful feeling.

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