Today there are 3.4 billion smartphone subscriptions around the world. That figure is expected to rise to 6.1 billion within the next four years1. In addition, global technology companies plan to spread the Internet to currently unwired regions of the planet2. This means we are more connected than ever before. (At least, technologically more connected, but not with each other.)
As we embrace the ubiquity of the Internet, and bring it with us wherever we go, we cultivate a habit. What habit? The incessant checking of our devices; expecting notifications at every occasion. A habit that psychologists warn could be a “toxic source of stress.”3
Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, argues that technology and constant connectivity don’t improve our productivity. She compares our relationship with smart devices with our relationship with food: “we are not going to get rid of food, we need to be on a healthy diet with food, and that is the goal, being on a healthy diet with these technologies.” In other words, our devices (our “life partners”) aren’t going away. And we should act accordingly.
E-mail is one of the most prevalent communication technologies, together with instant messaging services and social media. Thus, going cold turkey with e-mail is not likely feasible for many people. Instead, as professor Turkle urges, the goal should be a healthier relationship with electronic mail.
We all can improve the way we interact with e-mail. Here are six simple steps to help:
Your smart devices aren’t going away. And neither is e-mail. But that’s okay, because these tools are there to serve you. The question is, how can we become smarter users of these technologies? The tips above are a start. But it’s really a question each of us must answer for ourselves.