Originally created 07/19/00

Overwhelmed by e-mail



CHICAGO -- John Parker's heart sank last week when he returned from a two-week vacation to find well over 250 e-mails awaiting him.

So he did what many increasingly overwhelmed e-mail users are doing.

"I'm afraid I just basically moved them all into the trash basket," says the Washington bureau chief for the British magazine The Economist. "You can read and respond and spend all day doing that, or you can do the work. But you can't do both."

Technology is making it easier for us to communicate - so easy that e-mail inundation is becoming common. Now some people are drawing the line.

"The speed of technology is driving me insane!" says Maria Salomao, a public relations executive from San Francisco. Salomao and several others say that in recent months they have begun replying to fewer e-mails and are getting fewer responses to messages they have sent.

In Australia, a country that has made big efforts to get its citizens connected to the Web, tax officials have been so swamped by e-mail questions that they have had to send auto-responses telling e-mailers they will have to wait at least two weeks.

Because of e-mail overload, experts like Eric Yaverbaum, author of "I'll Get Back to You," are proving hard to reach.

"I've become the guy I used to curse at, and I feel bad," says Yaverbaum, who gets about 100 voice mails and e-mails daily. "But what can you do?"

So who's sending all this stuff anyway?

Some of the e-mail jamming our boxes is, of course, unsolicited junk mail.

Jupiter Communications, which tracks this sort of thing, projects that marketing-related e-mail messages will increase 40-fold between 1999 and 2006. It says the average online user received 1,746 e-mails in 1999 and will receive 2,052 this year.

Then there are people like Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of new media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, who sends so much e-mail - 250 a day - that his friends have come up with a name for it: "sree-mail."

Some of it is school-related. Some of it goes to people on group lists he has created, including one dedicated to news from Asia.

"Pity the fools," Sreenivasan jokes of those who actually sign up for his lists.

Experts do have a few tips for dealing with an unruly e-mailbox.

"On the receiving side, you have to prioritize," Yaverbaum says.

Sreenivasan, for example, goes through his e-mail and immediately deletes anything that looks like junk mail.

"Anybody sees an e-mail from someone they don't know and they erase it automatically now," says Patrick Keane, a Jupiter Communications analyst.

Many e-mail programs offer message filtering that can make sure that an urgent request from, say, the boss surges to the top of your e-mail queue.

"On the sending side," suggests Yaverbaum, "you've got to make every e-mail and voice mail count."

In the business world, he says that means keeping it brief and asking for a response if you expect one. Even at home, experts suggest forwarding fewer jokes and attached files to build credibility with those you're sending to.

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On the Net: Sreenath Sreenivasan's site: http://www.sree.net