A cool yet unreserved manifesto against the drug-like, numbing consequences of e-mail correspondence and the alienating paradox at the heart of our so-called “connected” online lives.
It’s when e-mail overshadows those who use it, writes literary critic and Granta American editor Freeman, that we’re in genuine trouble of surrendering our relationships, acumen, physical and mental health, creativity and time, all for the sake of convenience. The author is no Luddite, however, nor is the book a regressive polemic. Correspondence has always pursued expediency, writes Freeman, and he readily acknowledges the digital media’s manifold benefits over previous modes. But as he repeatedly points out, e-mail is only the latest iteration of this logical progression from primarily geocentric (and agonizingly slow-to-arrive) pre–post office correspondence to the telegram to the first e-mail ever sent—on Oct. 29, 1969, over the pre-Internet ARPANET. We built these roads toward nonlocal communication, Freeman argues, but we now need to choose when and how fast to walk them, because speed “is not a neutral deity.” Nor is e-mail’s ubiquity neutral. No downtime and increasingly fewer chances to unplug both give rise to isolation, addictive behavior and a host of other negative psychological problems including sleep deprivation and degraded focus and memory function. Freeman cites numerous studies and quotes everyone from Bill McKibben to Susan Sontag in support of his central thesis that our hyperconnected lives are in reality anything but. The author’s ten-part program to break what he considers a dangerous addiction to e-mail is predicated on a simple, potentially divisive premise: Don’t send one. Freeman is a matchless writer with a talent for such bombshells, and his conclusions are rational, practical and wholly refreshing.
First steps toward a Slow Communication movement?