the changing role of email in our lives

(Chicago) I have the habit of saving all non-spam emails and preserving my old email archives whenever I get a new computer. I saved 22 incoming emails from 1994, and 17,926 so far from 2012. It took just five minutes to graph the trend in email volume, best shown by the number received each day for each 365-day year:

(I may have lost some emails from 2008, when we moved from University of Maryland to Tufts; and 2012 is a projection based on 10 months.)

I show this graph not to make any special point about myself. I suspect both the trend and the total numbers are pretty typical. The growth rate is not exponential (I checked), but it is rapid. I get eight times more email than I did a decade ago. We’ve reached a point where it’s not unusual to receive 6-8 emails that are worth reading and saving per hour during a work day. If that trend continues–hypothetically–then by 2022, I’ll be getting one substantive email per minute, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

It’s worth asking whether this is a good way to live.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.