Are we overdosing on Email?

Mike Halsey MVP
Jul 14, 2011
Updated • Dec 1, 2012

There really can be no escaping from it these days and we've accepted the barrage of emails we receive from people as a normal part of life.  Should it be this way though and will something have to give soon in order to avoid people either becoming completely addicted to their email, or to help them avoid going crazy because of it?

Scientists and researchers have been saying for several years now that we're getting too much email.  They began saying this when the Blackberry was gaining popularity and more and more people suddenly began using email on the move.  The complaint then was that we were all expected to be able to answer work email outside of work hours.  This wasn't giving people adequate time to switch off from their daily lives and relax in their own private time.

The Blackberry soon became known as the 'Crackberry' as people became addicted to the email facility on the handsets.  Now though the situation has spread like an epidemic, not only to smartphones, but also to other connected devices such as tablets and netbooks.  Questions will need to be asked again though if we're not spending too much time addicted to email (and other forms of messaging) and if it isn't having a negative effect on our lives, and on society, that could begin to cause real social problems if left unchecked.

It's not an unusual experience though by any stretch of the imagination.  Wherever you go in modern daily life you'll see exactly the same thing.  Everywhere there will be people checking their smartphones, as if the world has moved on considerably in the five minutes since they last checked it.

I will admit to being an email twitcher on my phone.  I'll go and visit a friend but the phone will be out and all too all too often I'll flick it on and do a quick email check.  This is despite the facts that the phone is set to automatically check for email every fifteen minutes and I don't get that many exciting or interesting work or social emails every day anyway.  It's a problem, and I know it.  I find myself feeling embarrassed that I clearly have a stronger connection to my email than I do to the person I'm visiting.

But what are the emails we're all receiving and are they really that important anyway?  If I examine my own emails, I'll wake up every day to a few Google alerts (for my work here) and emails from Groupon and perhaps some shopping websites telling me about offers.  I've long since switched off from the barrage of social networking emails inviting me to play this, or join that on Facebook and telling me that @person mentioned me on Twitter.

I'm lucky then, as a great many people will still be receiving five or six emails a day from Facebook.  Every one of them reminding them that they haven't logged into their Facebook account and interacted with their friends in, oh, must have been at least half an hour.  That's all the shopping emails are like too.  I'm hardly likely to forget that Debenhams exist on the high street and only really want to know when they've got a sale going on that's relevant to me.  Alas this means I have to sign up for a barrage of emails that aren't relevant to me in the slightest.

In recent days I've finally had enough and have been undergoing a cull, hitting unsubscribe on many of these emails.  I know though that it's only a matter of time before more companies tempt me to sign up for email alerts, or that I wake up one morning and don't feel there are enough emails there (an odd feeling that one) so I'll go and sign up for another.

It should come as no surprise to you then that all of these companies hire psychologists to advise them on things exactly like this.  Email is becoming a major social problem, especially since they started playing with our heads to get our attention and to get us hooked.

It would be interesting to hear how many emails you receive every day, let us know in the comments.  Of that total try to answer these if you can.  How many are from companies marketing themselves, how many are from social networks, how many are from work (and outside of work hours) and, crucially, how many of them are actually relevant or important?


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  1. RoniD said on July 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I get about 200-250 work emails a day and 40-50 personal, I don’t use Facebook at all, and don’t receive any from other social network sites that I do use. Emails play a big part in my life as a digital PM and I can’t get away from them, but there is a lot to be said for people who know how to compose an email. I no longer reply to chain emails unless they are passed with a top level overview and required actions. Too many people think they can pass problems off by forwarding chain emails. You have to get to a point where you only deal with well structure emails, otherwise you will spend most of your day dealing with pointless emails, and even more annoying are pointless company wide emails… THINK before you send emails, and realize most people are now extremely time poor, and can only be expected to deal with so many emails a day. If you forward an email just to keep someone in the loop, then state that (FYI), or if you require a response make sure to state a top level overview and the response required…

  2. Hardy said on July 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I get about 10 emails a day. 99% of the time it’s spam. I actually read an email maybe once a week, so I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t have a facebook or myspace account, so I don’t have any messages to check.

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