Is email really a wonderful advance, or is it, perhaps, an insidious and mind-numbing way to distract ourselves? John Freeman tackles issues like those in “The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox.” Publishers Weekly says the book “draws effectively on psychological and social research to describe the harm this tsunami of e-mail is causing: fragmenting our days, fracturing our concentration, diverting us from other sources of information and face-to-face encounters.” But is “the tyranny of email” really worth a whole book? Apparently so. Ben Yagoda, writing in The New York Times, says he has “felt e-mail’s tyranny, and Freeman has some good innings on this subject.”
Books about social problems are often strong in describing the problem but fairly lame when it comes to suggesting solutions. The opposite is true of “The Tyranny of E-Mail.” While the diagnosis feels overblown, the prescription generally makes excellent sense. Among other things, Freeman advises us to limit how many e-mail messages we send and how often we check our in-box, to keep a written to-do list, to be careful reading and composing e-mail, and not to “debate complex or sensitive matters by e-mail.” A big 10-4 on that one.