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The chaos of high speed communication

Texts have us inundated, not Twitterpated

Let’s state the obvious: We couldn’t live without our BlackBerries or iPhones. Email is heaven-sent.

But not really. More and more busy people are acknowledging “the tyranny of email.” Indeed, that happens to be the title of a hot new book by John Freeman. The fact that we’re all tuned in, moment-by-moment, to the frenzy of the marketplace is not rewarding, it’s downright debilitating. And the Twitter rage has further exacerbated this phenomenon.

I was recently with a group of top executives who admitted they had no idea how to cope with the chaos of email. One CEO said he simply ignored his email. Another said he assigned an assistant to sort through it, and then ignored it. A third said he had taken to sending petulant emails to associates who sent unnecessary email.

Whatever their avoidance mechanisms, most executives (indeed most people) have become slaves to their BlackBerries or iPhones. They feel compelled to peer at their devices while exercising, eating, driving or even having sex. The temptation to Tweet overcomes all conflicting urges. Multitasking is increasingly embedded in our behavior, and many people feel downright futile unless they’re carrying on several conversations at the same time, online and in person.

An amazing number of smart people are constantly tripped up by their own email. Karl Rove seemed unaware last week that his email confirmed his role in the political firings of U.S. attorneys.

He’d tried to cover his tracks by instructing co-conspirators to use personal email, not the White House system, but he still seemed to forget the ultimate reality that emails live forever — they have their own perverse immortality.

Anonymous corporate employees often forget this fact when they “secretly” send flirtatious emails to colleagues, then think they’ve erased them. The detectives from HR, however, always find this material. Karl Rove should have realized this.

Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, argues in the Wall Street Journal that email “has prompted a breakdown of the barrier between our work and our personal lives … and has isolated us from the persons with whom we live.”

I recently rewatched the late John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” and I was reminded of a time when teens experienced their trials and tribulations through face-to-face contact, rather than through texting.

One new study of high school students reports that kids prone to multitasking, and multitexting, had poorer retention abilities and more mediocre grades than those who lived without the omnipresent cellphone.

We all have a shot at “preserving our sanity and our relationships in spite of email,” Freeman says, but “it all starts with a simple instruction: Don’t send.”

I was going to email Freeman a note in praise of his comments, but I decided to follow his advice: I didn’t send.

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