E-Mail Reply to All: 'Leave Me Alone'
Friday, May 25, 2007
Last month, venture capitalist Fred Wilson drew a lot of attention on the Internet when he declared a 21st century kind of bankruptcy. In a posting on his blog about technology, Wilson announced he was giving up on responding to all the e-mail piled up in his inbox.
"I am so far behind on e-mail that I am declaring bankruptcy," he wrote. "If you've sent me an e-mail (and you aren't my wife, partner, or colleague), you might want to send it again. I am starting over."
College professors have done the same thing, and a Silicon Valley chief executive followed Wilson's example the next day. Last September, the recording artist Moby sent an e-mail to all the contacts in his inbox announcing that he was taking a break from e-mail for the rest of the year.
The supposed convenience of electronic mail, like so many other innovations of technology, has become too much for some people. Swamped by an unmanageable number of messages -- the volume of e-mail traffic has nearly doubled in the past two years, according to research firm DYS Analytics -- and plagued by annoying spam and viruses, some users are saying "Enough!"
Those declaring bankruptcy are swearing off e-mail entirely or, more commonly, deleting all old messages and starting fresh.
E-mail overload gives many workers the sense that their work is never done, said senior analyst David Ferris, whose firm, Ferris Research, said there were 6 trillion business e-mails sent in 2006. "A lot of people like the feeling that they have everything done at the end of the day," he said. "They can't have it anymore."
So some say they're moving back to the telephone as their preferred means of communication.
"From here on out I am going back to voice communication as my primary mechanism for interacting with people," wrote Jeff Nolan, chief executive of the business software company Teqlo, in his blog announcing his e-mail boycott.
The term "e-mail bankruptcy" may have been coined as early as 1999 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies the relationship between people and technology.
Professor Sherry Turkle said she came up with the concept after researching e-mail and discovering that some people harbor fantasies about escaping their e-mail burden.
Turkle, who estimated that she has 2,500 pieces of unread e-mail in her inbox, is one of those people. A book she has been working on for a decade is coming out soon. Turkle joked that it would have taken her half the time to write it "if I didn't have e-mail."
Some people who don't want to go through the drastic-seeming measure of declaring total bankruptcy say they are trying to gently discourage the use of e-mail in their communications in favor of more personal calls or instant messages.