Tech Firms band together to clean up email muck

June 14, 2008

Tech firms band together to clean email muck Microsoft, Intel, Google, and IBM came together last week to form a new non-profit organization called the "Information Overload Research Group" in a combined effort to reduce the amount of time and productivity lost to high-tech communication.

According to RescueTime, a research company that analyzes computer habits, most IT workers turn to their email programs more than 50 times and instant message 77 times a day. Through cultural and technological programs, these tech firms hope to combat the over-saturation of information.

In Silicon Valley, the problem has gone so far that the culture has introduced jargon for this problem. When you have so much e-mail that you can’t answer them all, and you’re forced to delete everything, they call that “e-mail bankrupsy.” Or if the size of your inbox takes your breath away, they call that “e-mail-apnea.”

Google introduced an "Email Addict" feature into its Gmail program, allowing users to cut themselves off from their email accounts for 15 minutes. According to the New York Times, users click a button labeled “Take a Break” that makes their screen go gray, and prints a message that says “Take a walk, get some real work done, or have a snack. We’ll be back in 15 minutes.”

Intel introduced two experiments in reducing high-tech communication. On Tuesday mornings for four hours, they asked employees to reduce their digital conversations in favor of creating more in-person discussion.

They even have gone as far as making “quiet time” cards for employees to attach to their offices during this time. In addition, they introduced “Zero Email Fridays” to force employees out of their cubicles and actually talk to each other.

They found that most employees favored the program; some even wanted it more wide-spread with some modifications. However, they all felt that e-mail was a necessary and still needed to be available.

For some people, I can understand that this is a serious problem. Between our social networks like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, as well as our blogs, forums, etc., we’re buried under messages and services that we can’t nor want to give up. However, the concept isn’t something new.

I believe it was Cartoon Network that tried to implement the “Get Out and Play” program to encourage kids to leave their television sets and do outdoor activities. This is the same idea only for adults that can’t get away from their computers. The problem I see with this is that companies could use this to implement really stupid rules and codes of conduct that will only reduce company moral. However, I like what Intel and Google are trying to do by suggesting alternatives, doing experiments, and offering tools to help people.

Also, I find it pleasantly ironic that the very companies that made these devices are trying to implement ways to get us off of them, and I find it stupid that this is even an issue. In any case, what it boils down to is your own disciplines. You need to limit your time, stick to it, and learn ways to be more efficient that work best for you. That could involve installing some tools or doing experiments of your own.

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