Most Important Story in Sunday's WaPo: Anderson on Email

So many things to catch up on, and so many other things to do. But I want to note one item at least. Chris Anderson's essay in Sunday's Washington Post -- "How to stop email overload? Think before you hit send" -- seemed to me wonderfully clarifying, in three ways:

1) The problem for each of us:

>>An e-mail inbox has been described as a to-do list that anyone in the world can add to.... It's because of a simple fact: E-mail is easier to create than to respond to.... Every hour spent writing and sending messages consumes more than an hour of the combined attention of the various recipients.<<

2) The problem for all of us:

>>It's a modern "tragedy of the commons." The commons in question here is the world's pool of attention. Instant communication makes it a little too easy to grab a piece of that attention. The result of all those little acts of grabbing is a giant drain on our time, energy and sanity.<<

3) The solution:
He lays it out in the "Email Charter," which boils down to: send less; be more specific and limited in what you ask of recipients; be readier to use abbreviations like NRN ("no reply needed"); and be more patient with "short or slow" answers. One point of the "Email Charter" manifesto:

>>Short or Slow is not Rude
Let's mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we're all facing, it's OK if replies take a while coming and if they don't give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don't take it personally. We just want our lives back! ... In our world of information overload, a few small changes can reap a surprisingly large reward<<

Words to reflect upon. But not to send messages about.* (Although perhaps to reinforce, as Anderson suggests, with this email signature: Save our in-boxes!
* I highly value, continue to learn from, and will frequently quote "information" emails from people around the world. For instance, tomorrow I'll put up an interesting message from someone in Estonia, about the NYPD pepper-spray outrage, and another from someone who has parsed the NYPD guidelines on how to handle these situations. Thank you! It's a privilege to be a distribution point for such crowdsourcing. But I'll have to offer blanket thanks occasionally rather than responding personally every time.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In