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Published August 6, 2021

How the Pandemic Accelerated the Changes to how we Consider Emails

How the Pandemic Accelerated the Changes to how we Consider Emails

Since the inception of the internet, philosophers have been writing about the reduction in critical thinking that civilization has experienced.

Pre-internet when you wanted to understand a subject, you would turn to credentialed experts, who would have spent decades researching a specific topic, published papers and books on the subject, presented lecture series on the subject, and in many fields have a storied history of practicing what they preach.

Post-inception-of-the-internet we are now used to consuming subjects in bite-sized chunks, sub-500-word articles often with great photos, and very little understanding of the provenance of the author.

And we all recognize that many messages we receive are from people we don’t know, and so we treat them with a learned level of indifference.

I know I used to start each day by carefully reading each email I received in the order they were received, going to the oldest unopened email and working my way through the list. But as the volume of unsolicited messages grew, I started to corral all the ones from people I didn’t recognize and just scan the titles. Today when I open my inbox for the first time each morning there will always be a couple of hundred messages, and about half of them are now tagged by the exchange as [possible spam], [possible marketing] or are automatically moved to the JUNK or SPAM folders.

I’m still not 100% confident in Microsoft’s ability to decide for me what emails are of low quality, so I always check these folders. And generally, find a few emails that were incorrectly assigned.

What has happened is that I, like most people, have gone from carefully considering the contents of each email to scanning titles. I know that each email took someone (and often a team of people) a lot of time to create, and there may be an incredible value, to me, in the content, and yet I’m now desensitized to the point that I can scan hundreds of emails in just a couple of minutes.

I truly miss the times when I could focus on a topic and learn from experts in that field.

When the history of the world since the Internet revolution is written, I think there will be a rogues gallery that will include:

  • Google – Who created the perfect search engine, that drove the extinction of critical thinking to new levels.
  • Facebook – Who drove everyone’s opinions to be considered equal, irrespective of their knowledge on a subject.
  • Twitter – Who gave a voice to lies of all shapes and sizes, and made it almost impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction.
  • Amazon – Who created the concept of “people who shopped for items you bought, also bought …”, which killed many new products and ideas, because if they are not recommended, you are much less likely to consider them.
  • Apple – “who moved us from writers of prose to thinking in acronyms and emojis”
  • Microsoft – “Who allowed malware to grow to become the biggest problem in the world”, and before you say this was not Microsoft’s fault, just consider the proportion of malware that targets the Microsoft platform, with market dominance comes responsibility for the market you dominate.

I don’t hate any of these companies, actually, they represent over 50% of my waking life. But maybe, just maybe I should really, really learn to hate them.