Email Overload and The Little Prince

Posted on November 2, 2009 · Posted in Analysis and Opinion

Email Overload is one affliction that people accept more or less willingly. Nobody’s holding a gun to their head, after all. So why are knowledge workers doing this to themselves?

We’ll be discussing many causes in this blog, but today I want to probe a remark made by a friend: he observes many knowledge workers who feel that getting lots of email enhances their status. Basically they’re saying “Watch me – I’m important, I get lots of mail and I’m busy handling all of it!

Businessman from The Little Prince

This absurd position reminds me of a scene from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s immortal “The Little Prince”. It describes the planetoid of the businessman; the one who sits day and night at his desk, adding up numbers of stars he claims to own. Obviously he gains nothing, but he is so full of himself because he’s busy, as behooves a serious businessman; he takes pride in not having a free moment: “can’t stop… I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence!” The prince, who is so attuned to the really important things in life, would never understand this viewpoint; one suspects he’d never own a blackberry either (but he did have a rose, and a sheep in a box, remember).

The notion that people would prefer to appear busy doing something that clobbers their ability to create real value is sad; but then, humans do many sad things, some of them more harmful than this one. In any event, I’d like to know: do you see this phenomenon around you? Or – be honest – do you see it in the mirror perhaps? Do tell!