Chris Anderson, the man who started TED conferences and "ideas worth spreading," is now on a mission to stop the unnecessary emails that take up our limited time and attention.
Calling email a "giant rats nest of voracious demands on our time, energy and sanity," Anderson has drafted an Email Charter in an effort to fight back against verbose and frivolous messages. The rules range from writing "no need to reply" at the end of an email to quashing surplus cc's if tangential parties don't need to be included in the conversation.
The overloaded email inbox has become so commonplace that it's easy to forget just how quickly all this connectivity has happened. I was born in 1972 so I can still remember the world before email and handheld devices.
When I think back 15 years ago to when I first began to use email and then the Internet it seems rather quaint. Today it's commonplace to spend a good portion of the day buried in email, Twitter, blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, surfing the web and texting.
Essentially, Anderson's email rules are about using email more skillfully. It's a worthy endeavor and the message is one that I would extrapolate to technology in general. Why is it we can spend hours on our computer and then wonder what we accomplished in a day? It often seems that the very tools that are supposed to help us save time actually take up more of it.
In my household we have fully embraced the digital age. My husband and I have iPod's, iPhone's and iPad's along with our computers. I'll admit that between the two of us an hour rarely goes by without somebody checking out a screen. Even my four-year-old daughter -- seemingly by osmosis -- has learned how to create a picture using a colouring book app on my husband's iPad and then email it to her cousin. She has already begun to understand the concept that she can share her artwork by clicking a few tabs on a screen.
It's with a mixture of awe and anxiety that I watch her adeptly navigate this wired world. Fortunately, just as I was beginning to wonder about how much screen time she should actually have with these devices the hot summer arrived and she completely abandoned the iPad in favour of digging up dirt in my garden and swimming. I breathed a sigh of relief. Kids will still be kids.
Of course it's expected that the older generation will view the new technology with some degree of skepticism and also as a threat to the rightful order of things. Nobody yet knows what all this multi-tasking and incessant tugging on our attention will have but it is reasonable to assume that there will be implications.
We all need technology in our life to work and communicate with friends and family. On a functional level there are lots of benefits to email but its perpetual influx can quickly become stale and sap our energy.
For technology to be a positive force we need to figure out how to use it instead of being used by it. It's easy to become enamoured with the latest gadget but I'm quite sure that when I'm on my deathbed I won't be thinking back to all the good times I had staring at my iPad.