Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are you addicted to e-mail?

Sandra Parshall

A recent study in the UK found that office workers check their e-mail a minimum of 30 times every hour. With e-mail capability on cell phones, plenty of people check their mail around the clock, while they’re on vacation, while they’re on dates, while they’re attending weddings and funerals and parties and other events where they should be interacting with people who are 
present in the flesh.

Why? Are they all expecting earth-shaking news via e-mail? No, they’re just getting a dopamine fix every couple of minutes.

I’ve been hearing about e-mail addiction for a decade and never gave it much thought. I believed it was just another way that people, including myself, have found to goof off when we ought to be working. Then I read (in Esquire, of all places) that every time addicts check their e-mail their brains release a small dose of the “pleasure chemical” dopamine, which plays a key role in addictive behavior. The more you do it, the more you want that squirt of dopamine.

We have become, in short, lab rats mindlessly seeking rewards for repetitive behavior.

We know that 99.99% of e-mails will contain nothing of great importance. Yet we withdraw from the world around us to click click click on Get Mail or to slavishly obey the intrusive notice that mail is waiting. We act as if every message must be read and answered without delay.

How bad is your habit? Are you willing to answer these questions honestly?

1. How many times a day do you check your e-mail?

2. How many times have you checked for mail in the last hour?

3. Do you retrieve and answer business e-mail at night and on weekends?

4. Do you keep up with e-mail on vacation?

5. What’s the longest time you’ve gone without an e-mail fix?

6. Do you check e-mail while at social events?

7. Do you tend to reply to e-mail immediately? 

8. Do you feel a little uneasy when you enter a no-cellphones zone such as a hospital or theater?
9. Have you tried to control your e-mail habit? What worked? What didn’t?

10. Do you think you could live without e-mail? Would you want to?


Sheila Connolly said...

So that's what's going on! I would probably answer yes to many of the questions--I've been known to log in from Ireland and Australia. But I don't lump cell phones into the same category--I don't get anything but a few phone calls on mine.

But we writers are in a business that has become increasingly dependent on email communication, at all levels, including our agents and editors. We get our edits that way, and our contracts and our royalty statements. We can't just walk away now.

Jessie Crockett said...

Wow, this really hits home! I've been looking at ways to increase my writing productivity and had noticed how email checking eats into available writing time. Thanks for insight as to why breaking this habit is such a struggle.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Sandra, I've been very concerned about this for some time. During the week, I allow myself to check e-mail. On weekends, I work like a fiend not to. There is definitely something to this report. Lab rats, indeed :( And it's so easy when you're on a computer and say, I'm going to stick to my work simply to click on a link. I work on my WIP separately -- without e-mail. Thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...

I've made a pact with myself to write for an hour in the morning before opening e-mail. Today was Day 1. I almost made the whole hour. The trouble was, I was writing limericks instead of working on my novel. I guess I have to work into this one gradually. (This is my first check of the day.)

I realized the pleasure connection recently when the sight of my e-mail connection in my browser's drop-down menu produced a strong craving to connect, even though I hadn't thought about e-mail until I saw the word.

I don't read or respond to everything. I don't check it on my dumb cell phone. I write long missives to friends and communicate with them more often that I would if I were using snail mail. No more e-mail = no more Guppies. It's a mixed bag. My current plan is to switch off my laptop's access to the wireless network while I'm writing.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Guilty guilty guilty. What can I say. It's just as you describe, Sandy--I always think: what if this is the moment that the email I've been waiting for arrives!

It hardly ever is, of course.

But sometimes, it is! So, tragically, I keep checking. Its nice to hear, I guess, that I'm not alone.

Julia Buckley said...

I am addicted. I only check it on my big computer (no fancy phone or blackberry), but I check it both at work and at home. It's partly an obsessive thing: I like to "clean out" mail that is spam or that I don't need so that only "fresh mail" is in my box. And of course I'm always looking for that diamond of an e-mail!

But this addiction began long before the Internet; when I was as young as six I was addicted to snail mail. I longed for it to come and then I pounced on it with great excitement. I have always LOVED mail, and even an impersonal catalog felt personal if it contained something of interest to me. :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Julia, so interesting! I also LOVE getting the mail when we get home! So maybe--it starts early..maybe we're always looking for the treasure.

It means we're optimistic, right? Which sounds better than "addicted.":-)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Not everyone who checks email frequently is an addict, just as not everybody who drinks alcoholic beverages is an addict (and I speak as an expert in the latter field). When I'm home, I set up my computer so that I can see whenever I get new email, which is important to me not only to keep up with business and networking as a writer but also in my "other hat" as an online therapist. I usually read email as it comes in, because I like to clear my virtual desk, just as I can work better when I keep my physical desk in order. I sometimes "fall in," answering more than I need to (eg leaving a comment on a blog), but I'm not a junkie. This morning, I wrote 2800 words of my WIP before looking through the two dozen emails I found waiting when I turned my computer on. I do check my email on weekends and when I'm on vacation--just as, if I did therapy in a physical office--I'd check my phone messages to make sure I wasn't missing a client in crisis. On the other hand, I don't text or get email on my cell phone, which is usually off, unless I'm expecting a particular call, eg when I travel. In other words, no apologies!

Sandra Parshall said...

I don't have a phone that does e-mail, and I probably never will. I'd be checking it all the time, wherever I am. I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco without the means to check e-mail, and I missed it, even though most of the people I talk to by e-mail were right there in the hotel!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting reading. I don't check my e-mail that often. However, I do feel an incredible urge to clear my "virtual desk" (I like that phrase). But then I also feel an incredible urge to clear my physical desk.

Patg said...

I'm an email-a-holic. I have 3 addresses, all justified by personal business, Sisters' business, personal, junk mail addy and more. I love it and fortunately only addicted at home. No idea how to use my ancient cell phone to get all the new stuff. Phew! Would hate to drive by the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids and never see them while I read email.
So don't go telling me how to get it on my phone!


caryn said...

Totally addicted. I have a friend on another list that is planning a technology free week shortly for the time she is not at work and at work only using the computer and phone for work related. I'd like to join her but gosh, I would miss the new pix posted on FB of my granddaughters. And how would I know that my husband was going to get a haircut on his way home. And what about placing library holds and checking netflix que and and and.....hopeless and I hang my head.

Alyx said...

I'd say that I'm about 50/50 with the questions you asked. I don't check my email constantly, but do have a gut reaction to the little ping that tells me I have new mail. I have no problem going on vacation & checking email once every few days, & I hope I never get to the point where I check email during an outing with friends/family.

I'm actually worse with a ringing phone. I was raised that you're supposed to pick up a phone before the third ring.

We do get conditioned very easily, don't we? :o)

Nice post, Sandra.

Sandra Parshall said...

Alyx, I have a hard time letting a phone ring unanswered. I know the answering machine will kick in, and if it's somebody I *want* to talk to I can pick up, but still I race to get to it by the third ring. The only time I let it go is during political campaigns. Can't stand those constant calls, even from candidates I support.

Pat Marinelli said...

I'm about 50/50 also on the questions. I don't do the phone thing, but I admit to starting my computer frist thing in the morning and checking e-mail. Jungle Red Writers 6 week challenge right now to break the "habit."

Julia, yes, I realized now I was a snail mail junky as a kid and still am. Hank, my admit, I did the e-mail thing before I wrote today. My bad. I'm blaming it on lots of snow and no TV. Snow is blocking the dish.

Sometimes I feel the need to check my e-mail on vacation and sometimes not. Does this mean I'm half an addict or it's just a habit.

In nice weather I go to the dock just to get away from technology. I hate it when people there must be on their cell phones. I never have my cell phone on, I just it for emergencies and long distance class to my kids.

Wow, lots more to think about on this subject. I don't want to get as bad as my adult kids who text each other while out at family dinner.