The postman may irritate us by always ringing twice, but what seems to be really getting our goats is the not-so-humble electronic mail. And one is not only talking about the pencil-crunching menace of the spam mail, which forms about 80 per cent of all the e-mail out there. One computer scientist and two psychologists from Glasgow University surveyed 177 people in their study titled, ‘Ubiquitous connectivity and work-related stress’. The lab-coated ones have found out that a third of the sample group were ‘stressed’ by e-mail, overwhelmed by their habit of checking their e-mail inboxes and plagued by the need to reply to their mails immediately. More than a third checked their inboxes every 15 minutes, while most of them checked once every hour. More than a quarter stated that they were ‘driven’ by pressure to reply. A happy 38 per cent felt comfortable to reply when they felt like it, probably in ‘a day or two’. None of the 177 guinea pigs were slaves; just slaves to the system.
So you heard the numbers. But how bad is it? When the e-mail first appeared out of the ether in 1961, nobody except a bunch of geeks in MIT knew about it. The Compatible Time-Sharing System or CTSS was a clunkier name than ‘e-mail’ but that was what it was with multiple users logging into the IBM 70944 behemoth. With e-mail reaching out to non-MIT people in 1965, the world was getting ready to be connected — except computer prices and speeds postponed things. From that monster spawned by geeks comes the 21st century’s latest form of stress. With fears of e-mails going to unintended places (office lovebirds, be always vigilant!) and the boss keeping track of when you do send that reply to that ‘FYI’ he had sent you, life in the connected workplace is getting difficult. It gets worse with the Blackberry, of course, where the excuse of not sitting at your desktop or carrying your laptop is wiped out with one clunky device that advertisers want you to procure.
And the worst part of an e-mail is that despite the emoticons available, you can never get the tone. Is he being sarcastic or downright rude? Flaming, the e-mail equivalent of road rage, makes matters worse. So stress over e-mail at your own risk. E-mail junkies never stop thinking about their inboxes. Which is why those still holding out on e-mail are smiling.