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

By James Fallows

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! http://emailcharter.org)
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* 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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/09/most-important-story-in-sundays-wapo-anderson-on-email/245715/