650. That, according to Jordan Weissman, a writer for The Atlantic, who extrapolated the number from claims about workers’ productivity issued by McKinsey Global Institute, is the number of hours the average “working stiff” spends on email at work. His calculations are as follows:

“we spend 13 hours a week, or 28 percent of our office time, on email. Assuming two weeks vacation, that multiplies out to 650 hours a year.”

Nevermind the obvious “buts” that undoubtedly come to mind — 13 hours out of how many? The last time my work week was 40 hours — HA! Who gets two weeks vacation? But I email on vacation! — and consider the following math:

An average year has 8760 hours (or, as the musical Rent has drilled into my mind, “525, 600 miiiinnutes!”) — and a leap year, such as the current one, has 24 hours more. The figure of 650 hours, then, or roughly 7%, doesn’t seem quite as egregious as perhaps it’s meant to be. And frankly, I think the approximation of 650 hours per year, which is less than two hours a day, might be a low estimate…for some people…

After all, email needn’t mean the drudgery of replying to inane requests for the same document, statistic, or reference you’ve already sent along at least ten times. But perhaps it can’t be helped, and perhaps that’s why many of us have multiple email accounts — to perpetuate the illusion that we are entirely different people when we check the gmail account versus the .edu one; that the mindful and present person we can be with the former is all but a ghost when we click open the latter…

What is more appalling, however, is the nonchalant recommendation that concludes Weissman’s article:

“McKinsey suggests that by moving to social media-based information platforms — think some of the more recent versions of Microsoft Sharepoint — would make workers 25 percent more productive. True?”

False! My guess is that the average person working within an institution, be it for/non/or anti-profit, has to communicate with a bevy of others — you know the ones: the humorless, the martyrs, the overly performative types — with whom a generic status update or tweet such as “Skpg mtg. Kthxbye!” just wouldn’t feel right. (And now I’m imagining various members of our institutional administration huddled together around someone’s tablet, smartphone, or laptop as they try to decipher that…)

Nor would it “increase productivity” — another much-loathed phrase — because people would be increasingly running around, even more so than now, fretting over the very mechanism that intends to simplify. People already become stressed when composing messages to an audience of one or a few. Dare we imagine the social paralysis that may descend upon the masses if everything was deemed to be necessarily public?! (…even though a very tiny part of me suspects that private is merely an artifact of nostalgia, alive in our memories alone…)

So, to recap:
Less time spent on inane emails that say the same thing 25 times over? Yes!
Imposed socially mediated communication for the sake of some false sense of productivity? Um, maybe not quite.

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