Sometime, this year I think, email started to overwhelm me. While I’ve long been a heavy user of the tool, especially as a receiver—most PR firms pitch stories to me this way—it was something I managed. Until I recently realized that it was managing me. I could no longer keep up, unless I tended to email at the expense of all other projects, and those other projects seemed to move forward slower and slower. Even worse, it felt like a treadmill: I just read and answered email over and over, while the months and years ticked by. This was not the life I wanted.
Turns out I’m not alone. John Freeman, the Newcity book critic and now editor of Granta, has managed to ignore his @ sign long enough to turn out a fine consideration of “The Tyranny of E-Mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox.” It’s an economical book—who has time to read more than 220 pages with all that damn email to tend to, anyway?—that manages to cover the history of human messaging, from mail’s earliest miraculous character and the progressive impact on humanity it’s wrought, leading up to our current information overload, where, as Freeman writes, “The technology that was supposed to set us free to work from anywhere, to check in and clock out on our own time, has now become the longest employee leash ever invented because we can’t seem to log off.” Freeman’s coverage of the evolving character of society this technology is bringing is an important conversation that he manages to make entertaining as well. May even justify shutting off the Blackberry to hear what he has to say. (Brian Hieggelke)
John Freeman discusses “The Tyranny of E-Mail” November 4 at Barnes & Noble, 1441 West Webster, (773)871-3610, at 7:30pm. Free.