Addicted to Email? You’re Not Alone

By Josh Catone
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A couple of days ago I was chatting with SitePoint’s Managing Editor Matt Magain over instant messenger. That’s a daily occurrence, but what made this chat a bit different than usual is that it was about 3am in Australia where Matt is located. What was he doing up so late? Clearing out his email inbox.

If that sounds like a familiar scenario — it does to me — then you too might be an email addict. The results from AOL’s fourth annual email addiction survey revealed that Americans, at least, are a nation of email addicts, and it’s getting worse. We’d be willing to bet that the same is true in many wired nations.

According to AOL, 51% of respondents check their email 4 or more times per day, up 6% from last year and almost half (46%) admit to their email addiction. About a quarter of those surveyed are so overwhelmed by how much email they get that they’ve declared “email bankruptcy” and started over. That’s a familiar situation for any blogger — when I left ReadWriteWeb in June I had over 2500 unread email that had piled up since last year. AOL’s survey found that 20% of email users have over 300 unread messages in their inboxes. The solution for many is to just delete all emails and start over, sometimes with a new email address.

69% maintain more than one email account (I have 5), which is way up from 52% with multiple accounts last year. Clearly, Americans are becoming more and more addicted to email each year. And the addiction is spreading into leisure time for many people — 62% read their work email at home on weekends, 19% do so more than 5 times. “Worse, 28% said they feel obligated to check work email while on vacation, and 19% choose vacation spots with email access,” wrote AOL in a press release.

Email is also starting to be checked from strange (and sometimes dangerous) places:

  • In bed in their pajamas: 67%
  • From the bathroom: 59% (up from 53% last year)
  • While driving: 50% (up from 37% last year)
  • In a bar or club: 39%
  • In a business meeting: 38%
  • During happy hour: 34%
  • While on a date: 25%
  • From church: 15% (up from 12% last year)

The worst stat? Even though just 16% of email users surveyed check their email regularly from a mobile device, 41% of those that do keep their phones near them when they sleep so they can hear if a new email comes in.

It’s odd to think that our dependence on email is getting more pronounced in the face of so many other new online communication methods — social networks, Twitter, etc. But many people have long advocated that email is your true social network. Most of the important “social graph” connections mapped out on social networks like Facebook already exist in our email boxes. The people we email most are theoretically the most important to us (whether emotionally or because of work). That’s why companies like Xobni have gotten so much attention.

Are you addicted to email? Let us know if you see some of your own habits mirrored in AOL’s survey results.

[Via 901am.]

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  • The addiction, as I see it, is not to email itself, but to checking email too frequently, or worse yet, becoming a slave to the “ding”—dropping whatever it is you’re doing every time your email application automatically downloads new email and alerts you that it’s waiting to be read.

    It can be a difficult cultural shift in some companies that have become reliant on short turn-around times on email messages; nevertheless, I strongly recommend making the transition from continuously checking your email throughout the day to limiting yourself to one or two concentrated “email dashes”, during which you focus on processing your email. Most importantly, you need to switch off the alerts that your email program throws up to signal new email—or limit those alerts to email that has been identified by an automated filter as being worthy of interrupting your other work.

    Highly recommended on this subject is the Inbox Zero series of articles (or, for those in a hurry, the video), by Merlin Mann. More recently, read Chronic Procrastination and the Cost of the “Ding!”. A particularly relevant snippet:

    Even the beeps notifying the arrival of email are said to be causing a 0.5 per cent drop in gross domestic product in the United States, costing the economy $70bn a year.

  • How about only allowing email to be delivered three times a day to everyone in your company? Say once in the morning, once around lunch time, and once late in the afternoon. Wonder if that would work. Let’s try it at SitePoint and report back on how it went ;)

  • As of Opera 9.5, when a new email arrives, the little message indicator that appears at the bottom right of the window tells you who it’s from and its subject which means you can quickly take it in and decide whether it needs attention sooner rather than later and you don’t have to stop what you’re doing.

  • wormman

    I admit that I’m at in the 16% range. I sleep with my Black Berry and check it when if I get up to go to the bathroom. I know it’s nuts but I have a business and have become addicted to always being on. I actually like being that connected.