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"People overload" - The new correlating phenomenon to the Internet's information overload

By Rachel Alexander
web posted August 4, 2008

That person isn't ignoring you or being flaky, they're just overwhelmed with "people overload." For every extra email you respond to, you give up other parts of your life.

Along with the Internet's "information overload" has come the vastly expanded ability of people to contact other people. Now, anyone can email anyone in the world. And with email signatures containing contact information, or by asking someone to call you, more and more people are getting your phone number and calling you.

Email is very democratic; it doesn't distinguish between your mom, your employer, or a random press release sent from some organization 3,000 miles away. Sure there are ways to filter emails, but they all come to you in some capacity. There isn't yet a sophisticated way to filter out the emails that don't require any action on your part, versus the ones that do. A random press release might be something you need to see, because it might be something you'd like to write about or email to your friends.

The bigger presence you have on the internet, the more this phenomenon is becoming a problem. Some have tried to counter it by setting up a default email auto-reply which usually says something like thank you for the email, due to the large number of emails received the recipient may not be able to get back to you.

Not everyone understands it. I spend way too much time explaining to half my friends why the other half of my (more active, busier) friends didn't respond to them. Many people don't even understand this about famous people, who have it ten times worse than the rest of us.

Every email that comes in is a weighing process: work-related emails are first priority, since you depend on your job for income. Family emails are next priority, followed by close friends whose emails clearly require a response (and if you're in politics, that's a lot of emails). After that, it gets difficult. For every extra email you respond to, you give up other parts of your life: cleaning the house, fixing broken things around the house, cleaning the pool, getting maintenance done on your car, fixing glitches on and improving your websites, doing charitable work, going to the gym, spending time with your significant other, hobbies like writing, or gasp - taking some time for yourself and watching a movie. I feel guilty every time I watch a movie.

I have unfortunately alienated a few people over the years who did not grasp this. I could not respond to all of their emails and phone calls promptly and they became furious with me. It wasn't that I didn't like them, they simply demanded more of my time than I could give them. I don't have a couple hours a day to just gab on the phone generally.

Unlike some people, I actually enjoy people. But at some point I need private time to get personal things done.

After my cell phone bill came in this past month and it was $300 instead of the usual $55, I realized I had encountered a new phenomenon of "people overload." The election season has exacerbated this.

What can be done about this? The average person can't afford a personal assistant. Probably awareness is the best solution.

Don't be a time leech. As more people realize that many of us are overwhelmed with requests for contact, they will be more forgiving. If Jane doesn't respond to your mass email forwarding the latest denounced rumor from snopes.com, don't assume she's ignoring you. She may even have read it.

Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law in Phoenix, Arizona and blogs for GOPUSA.com.

 

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