Addicted to Email

I have a friend who jokes there are always three people in her bed: herself, her husband, and her Blackberry.  I was in California last week on vacation with my family and witnessed people typing away on their Blackberries while at Disneyland, with their children tugging at their pants legs, asking to go see Cinderella.  I was presenting a seminar yesterday, and one participant kept looking up to say, "Would you repeat that"? not because I wasn’t clear, but because she wasn’t paying attention to me—you got it—checking her email during class.  Examples abound but the bottom line is Americans are addicted to email.  Slaves to the Send/Receive button, countless workers sit at their desks, waiting for the next Desktop Alert, beep, cursor change, envelope in the system tray, whatever trigger prompts their Pavlovian response to interrupt whatever they are doing and check it.  And unopened email!  A present—for me!  Someone loves me.  Many workers allow themselves to get sucked in the email vortex for an entire day and not actually complete any work.  And then we blame the sheer mass for sucking all of our time, rather than acknowledging the reality: you are controlled by your email. 

A new study released July 26 by AOL in partnership with Opinion Research Corporation reveals that more Americans are using portable devices to email around the clock from virtually anywhere—even in the bathroom and at church.  Even more dangerously, 53% of respondents admit to tapping away *while driving.*  Some other interesting statistics:

* 83% of email users are checking while on vacation;

* 59% of those with portable devices are using them to check email every time a new message arrives.

* 43% of users keep the device nearby when they are sleeping to listen for incoming email.

*  15% describe themselves as "addicted to email" (really? only 15%?)

These statistics are just sad.  AOL was extolling this like a virtue, of course, that you can stay connected anywhere, anytime.  I think it’s a dangerous message.  We’re teaching people that in order to be productive and be a valuable worker, you have to be "always on," give up your private time, and check email at all hours of the night.  Portable devices are very convenient when you’re traveling for business, sitting on an airplane, in a taxi, driving as a passenger in a car with nothing better to do, at a business conference to stay in touch with the office, waiting to pick you kid up from soccer, etc.  There are certainly and definitely valuable uses for handhelds and they can be quite handy.  But be very careful about throwing yourself upon the altar of email addiction and sacrificing the quality of your life balance and time with your loved ones. 

The big differentiating factor is control.  If you shut your Outlook down completely for an hour, would you be able to resist checking?  Can you turn off your device for two hours while having a nice dinner with a spouse without thinking about it constantly?  Would you get hives if your Blackberry wasn’t charged?  Do you feel like the world is going to end?  I’m not here to judge you and neither should anyone else—only you know—intuitively—whether you have a problem.  Time to control yourself rather than letting technology control you.  If you think it’s bad now, just wait to see what happens in a couple years.




  1. Your statistics are shocking, but unfortunately they don’t surprise me. I was reluctant to get a Blackberry when I was offered one at work, but I have learnt to change the settings to ensure it is a productivity tool rather than a distraction.

    Just last week I wrote a post describing how I used my Blackberry

  2. I recently switched jobs and my new company, though more technical, doesn’t allow senior management to carry BlackBerry’s because of the effect on personal lives. I am liberated without my crackberry and loving it!!