Our Email Use Is 'Literally Inhumane'

Cal Newport argues we need alternatives to constant work messaging
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2021 10:55 AM CST
Our Email Use Is 'Literally Inhumane'
Cal Newport argues modern email use creates "a tortuous cycle."   (Getty Images/fizkes)

You hear a ping and look down at your phone to see that you have another email on top of hundreds still unread. If you immediately feel anxious, Cal Newport understands. The professional world has embraced email to such a degree that it now relies on near-constant communication at the expense of employees' health and happiness, the author and computer science professor writes in an excerpt from his upcoming book, A World Without Email, at the New Yorker. He summarizes numerous studies linking email use to unhappiness and stress. One study in Sweden, published in 2019, found that repeated exposure to "high information and communication technology demands" were linked to "suboptimal" health outcomes. And as Newport writes at Wired, the average person sends and receives 126 messages per day, meaning an inbox check every six minutes.

This creates "a tortuous cycle that increases the amount of work on our plate while simultaneously thwarting, through constant distraction, our ability to accomplish it effectively," Newport writes in the excerpt, noting evolutionary pressures "have ingrained the idea that ignoring a potential connection is a really bad idea." That means the psychological toll from email doesn't end with the workday. "We're miserable, in other words, because we've accidentally deployed a literally inhumane way to collaborate." Newport suggests new innovations, "wider use of shared project-management systems" combined with "short status meetings," or associating email addresses with projects instead of individuals. That's because "as long as we remain committed to a workflow based on constant, improvised messaging, we will remain in a state of low-grade anxiety," he writes. Read the full excerpt here. (More email stories.)

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