Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Digitally Overwhelemed

I am a technologist who can no longer cope with technology.

I can read a news article or a book. I can watch a video. But anything else is overwhelming.

The sad thing is I am unable to do my job without email. But the volume is astounding. Even with extensive filtering systems in place, it is too much.

I am not really sure how I got to this place. I've been using email since... well, let's just say I can recite the connection tones from a 1200 baud modem. But back then, very few people used email. Mostly it was just your friends. Now it's everyone, always, all the time.

With modems, there was a physical barrier to reading email. You could only check in certain locations at certain times of day, sometimes you would get a busy signal and have to redial. You'd sit there, disconnected, reading, playing games, listening to the modem dial. Peaceful and ignorant. And everyone else was too - so when you did manage to log in, there were far less emails there.

Everyone else seems to be feeling overwhelmed too. Though aside from either inhuman self-discipline (don't eat the giant chocolate chip data plan) or ignoring email, it's not clear what the solution is.


  1. I receive about 25 e-mail messages a day (not counting spam, which Google blocks for me). That is not overwhelming, but does take some time to process, as many of the messages are expecting replies.

    One solution is not to have a cell phone, which is what I do. Then you can only check e-mail while at a computer. Granted, I spend all day on a computer, and a lot of that time reading e-mail, but when I need to get away, I can go to a different room (or out to a coffeeshop without a laptop, if I really need to avoid temptation). I do a lot of my grading in coffeeshops.

    Of course, I'm also a contributor to the problem, as I send an average of about 250 email messages a month (about 1/3 of what I receive).

  2. I have this crazy project I'm slowly working on that involves cryptographically private sharing of data among teams of people. In particular I imagine it being used by people who do mundane things together regularly. One of the tangential ideas that I'm intrigued about is using it for messaging, where in order to send a message to someone you need to be on a team with them, or be on a team with someone who's on a team with them, or ... These messages would be secure and carry information about the path of people and teams that they went through. I think there's an interesting potential here to reduce semi-spam (messages that aren't exactly spam, but that you could live without seeing).

    More generally, I think the online messaging world is a complete mess right now and I'm looking forward to it settling down (hopefully in not too many years).