Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recommended Read: "The Tyranny of Email"

In "The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox", John Freeman explains how globalization, the concept of "now," and the synchronization of time have robbed us of a sense of leisure, personal and private life, the importance of local events, and even identity.

Disclaimer: Yes, I realize the irony of writing about the perils of the Internet while on the Internet. Also: I love Skyping with friends and family across the world, and I know email's an invaluable (and addictive) tool... I just like to occasionally assess my use of it, and I found Freeman's history of mail fascinating.

Here are some eye-opening tidbits from the book:

* Long before instant messages, texts, and Tweets, the postcard was blamed as the reason for the end of elegant composition; the "reason our daughters write like housemaids and express themselves like schoolboys." (Ha!)

* Oscar Wilde's telegram to his publisher, regarding book sales: "?"
The response: "!"

* 65% of North Americans spend far more time with their computer than their spouse.

* Because emails tend to look the same (and are read on a screen) there's no tactile sensation in the communication. In the past, different paper was used (formal letters used to be printed on heavy stock; telegrams with dire news were rimmed with black around the edges as a warning).

Want more? Check out Freeman's Manifesto for Slow Communication in the Wall Street Journal, from which I culled this: "The speed at which we do something -- anything -- changes our experience of it...not all judgments benefit from a short frame of reference... We need time in order to properly consider the effect of what we say upon others. We need time to shape and design and filter our words..."

(Good thing Google added that "unsend" button ;)


  1. This sounds really good!! I'm going to have to grab a copy!

  2. Thanks a lot for commenting, Jen, and feel free to look around :)

  3. "End of leisure!" That's the understatement of the century. LOL!

  4. Eek. I think I'm one of those Americans who spend more time with my computer than my spouse. Unless sleep time counts?

  5. Victoria, I agree. With BlackBerries and iPhones attached to our hands, supposedly making life easier, we seem to run out of time to be in the present, truly unplugged.

    Natalie, I think I am, too -- at least, during the work week. Let's agree to count sleep time :)

  6. I wonder if Freeman deals with what must be some kind of adrenaline rush from immediacy. I find if I don't reply to an e-mail/text/tweet within a certain timeframe, I no longer have much desire to reply at all. It's the immediacy I crave. Recently a longtime friend of mine and I have been sending each other cards and mail. We are positively giddy at the mailbox when "real" mail arrives. Thanks for the reading tip -- sounds like an interesting book.