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E-mail in bed

The growing e-mail addiction

Milon_Gupta

Milon Gupta
Eurescom
gupta@eurescom.eu

Thanks to mobile devices, e-mail has become ubiquitous. You can check your e-mails anytime and anywhere through laptops, smartphones, and wireless handheld devices, like the BlackBerry. And this is exactly what a growing number of people do, up to the point of addictive behaviour. They check their electronic messages in cars, bathrooms and even in bed.

15 percent e-mail addicts 

According to a recent survey on e-mail addiction, conducted in June 2007 in the United States on behalf of Internet provider AOL, 15% of the 4,025 respondents (age 13 and above) described themselves as addicted to e-mail. Interestingly, e-mail addiction seems to be more pronounced among women (16%) than among men (13%). Women are actually spending 15 minutes more per day on e-mail than men, according to the survey. On average, e-mail users check their mailbox five times a day. About 40% of e-mail users consider e-mail accessibility during vacation as important, and 38% of e-mail users actually check their e-mail once a day while on vacation. 

The availability of portable devices with mailing capabilities seems to have increased extensive e-mail usage. E-mail use on portable devices has nearly doubled since 2004, when the first AOL survey was done. The effect has been that 59% of those with portable devices are using them to check email every time a new message arrives. Access has become literally ubiquitous, as the survey data confirm: 59% percent of people e-mailing from portable devices are checking e-mail in bed while in their pyjamas; 43% keep the device nearby when they are sleeping to listen for incoming mail; 53% are checking e-mail in the bathroom; 37% while they drive; and 12% admit to checking e-mail in church. 

E-mailing lowers your IQ 

The situation in other parts of the world does not seem to be any better. According to a study performed on behalf of Symantex in 2005 among 1,700 employees from large enterprises in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), e-mail is dominating the working day: 52 percent of respondents said they spend two hours a day reading, replying to, and creating e-mails. A further 15 percent of respondents claimed to spend 4 or more hours a day managing their inboxes. The productivity effects of e-mail addiction seem to be anything but harmless. In 2005, English psychologists found out that regular use of e-mails can lower the IQ more than twice as much as smoking marijuana, reducing the individual's IQ by up to 10 points. 

Addiction, or not? 

It is still debated among psychologists, whether extensive use of e-mail or the Internet in general qualifies as addiction in the medical sense. Traditionally, addiction requires a psychoactive substance - like, for example, alcohol, drugs, or tobacco - which crosses the blood-brain barrier and temporarily alters the chemical behaviour of the brain. However, in a more general sense, the term addiction covers any recurring compulsive behaviour that includes a psychological dependency on particular objects or activities. This includes, for example, gambling, food, pornography, work, exercise, shopping, computers and the Internet. The chemical reactions taking place in the brain, when an e-mail addict checks his mailbox at midnight could be comparable to the addictive effects of alcohol or other external chemicals. It is possible that e-mail addicts, while satisfying their electronic craving, produce opiate-like biochemical substances called endorphins in their brain, which reinforce the addicts’ positive feelings while obsessively checking e-mails. 

Causes and remedies 

The causes of e-mail addiction are even less clear. Some pundits say that any form of Internet addiction, including e-mail addiction, is only a symptom of a deeper behavioural disorder. A more mundane explanation would be that e-mail addiction is rather boosted by working conditions than by individual disorders. In a Washington Post chat on the subject in May 2007, a mid-level government employee complained that her boss tried to make her take along her BlackBerry on her honeymoon in Europe. She refused – "even if it costs me my job". 

Creating e-mail free time slots seems to be the right method for fighting e-mail addiction. This can be achieved by switching off e-mail programmes and only checking e-mails at set times, for instance at 11:00, 14:00 and 16:00. People travelling with a BlackBerry could have it temporarily locked in the hotel safe. 

If you need further advice, just send an e-mail to message@eurescom.eu, the address for e-mail addicts, and keep checking your mailbox for the reply.

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