book review: a world without email10 Aug 2021
What are the main ideas?
- increasingly, the work that is most valuable to do in the world is knowledge work. everything we can do to increase the productivity is better than not doing it.
- checking email at the rate we have found ourselves doing reduces productivity because we spend too much time talking about work compared to how much time we spend doing work. talking about hard work is easier than doing hard work so we often prioritize the former at the expense of the latter (because we’ll do anything to get out of the latter).
- email hijacks our one of evolutionary adaptations: connectedness. our brain/body system has evolved to link pain with ignoring each other because turning towards each other has enabled our survival and thrival. not responding to email makes us feel like we’re ignoring each other which causes all sorts of other types of stress and general diminished life quality.
- when email came along, it was an upgrade. it allowed people to communicate asynchronously (in the 1980s!) across increasingly large buildings and eventually across multiple buildings, across towns, and eventually across continents. unfortunately, this reduced the friction to communicating with people which has had the unintended consequence of increasing the overall volume of communication. (tools like slack brilliantly swooped into “solve” email but didn’t address the underlying problem - too much communication. so now we’re getting overwhelmed with slack.)
- often, this increased communication is (a) “bouncing” back a forth a task no one actually wants to put in the effort to do or (b) about work and not actually work.
- hyperactive hive mind: a workflow centered around ongoing conversation fueled by unstrcutured and unscheduled messages delivered through digital communication tools like email and instant messenger services.
- newport’s belief is that a series of underlying forces combined to insidiously create the hyperactive hive mind. and even though most of us are aware it isn’t working (i.e. two of his chapter titles: “it makes us miserable” and “it reduces productivity”), we can’t stop.
- as with any new innovation, it makes sense that our first pass at using email isn’t the most optimized usage. it takes time to truly figure out how to be use new inventions. we are in that process with email now; it’s just happening at a global scale.
- as solutions to all of these issues, newport offers four principles. though it will take much experimentation, he believes that if we can learn how to apply these principles to new workflows, we can unlock the true human potential that is currently being squandered in our first iteration of instant, global communication.
- attention capital principle: the producivity of the knowledge sector can be significantly increased if we identify workflows that better optimize the human brain’s ability to sustainably add value to information.
- the process principle: introducing smart production processes to knowledge work can dramatically increase performance and make the work much less draining
- the protocol principle: designing rules that optimize when and how coordination occurs in the workplace is a pain in the short term but can result in significantly more productive operation in the long term.
- the specialization principle: in the knowledge sector, working on fewer things, but doing each thing with more quality and accountability, can be the foundation for significantly more productivity.
If I implemented one idea from this book right now, which one would it be?
email hijacks one of our most brilliant evolutionary adaptations: we want to respond to each other. know that this desire, which is important, has been placed in an impossible context: we are not designed to respond to the number of people email opens us up to. we must learn how to be human while continuing to figure out how to make these tools work for us.
How would I describe the book to a friend?
this book is newport’s update and maybe even upgrade to the insights he unpacked in his previous book, deep work. just like in that text, his analysis of the problems, this time of email, and where they come from seems spot on. what i really i love about this book though, is that it feels like he is learning (and he says as much in early parts of the book); he is learning that his somewhat dictatorial ideas about how people can directly apply his practices to their lives isn’t effective. it seems now he’s taking the stance: give less advice, give more principles. then let people figure out how to apply the principles in their own contexts. i love that.
that said, i disagree with some of newports most fundamental assumptions. for example: that the most important, valuable work humans can do is knowledge work. i disagree. knowledge work separate from grounded reality is not valuable at all. another example: increasing productivity is an important goal. again, i disagree. productivity gains are only valuable in light of broader political framework and analysis. it seems that newport has no concept of “enough.” i can’t remember it mentioned a single time in the entire book. i wonder what would happen if someone gave newport an awareness of white cis-hetero colonial imperial patriarchy, and then had him review all his research to date…
reminder: book review structure
words / writing / post-processing
878w / 41min / 5min