Monday, May 10, 2010

The Tyranny of E-mail: the four-thousand-year journey to your inbox

by John Freeman

A disappointing and frustrating book, but it could have been so great!

Biggest problem is that it's not well-edited. Freeman seems at times to want to write like Alain de Botton (The Architecture of Happiness), and he's not so far off the mark, but better editing would have helped. It also could have addressed some of the larger structural issues. For example, the "four-thousand-year journey to your inbox" has no depth until the most recent few hundred years, and the last two chapters feel tacked-on and completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the book. The occasional brilliant sentences and insights only draw more attention to the unevenness and shortcomings of the whole.

I agree with many of the book's criticisms of e-mail and the cult(ure) of gadgetry, the myth of the global village and the failures of technology. I quickly grew weary, however, of the Chicken Little-ing and the constant use of "we" when describing the extreme rather than the common or average. No more than a few pages are devoted to the digital divide, even though there are at least four divides — generational, temperamental, socio-economic, geographic — that could have been explored.

Do I regret reading this book? No, but I didn't learn much and I don't feel particularly enriched by the experience.

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