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The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox Paperback – Bargain Price, January 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We've all experienced the tyranny of e–mail: the endless onslaught, the continual distraction, the superfluous messages clogging our inboxes. Freeman, acting editor of Granta magazine, captures viscerally the buzzing, humming megalopolis that tunes into this techno-rave of send and receive, send and receive. And he draws effectively on psychological and social research to describe the harm this tsunami of e-mail is causing: fragmenting our days, fracturing our concentration, diverting us from other sources of information and face-to-face encounters. Freeman is best when he is on point. But when he drifts into history—granted, to make the salient point that this feeling of life speeding out of control overwhelmed people with the arrival of the railroad and the telegraph (though, strangely, he omits the telephone, our e-mail enabler)—he offers more postal and telegraphic details than most people will want and hammers his main points into the ground (e.g., we need to be needed, and receiving e-mail gratifies that need). But his closing manifesto for a slow communication movement could fuel an e-mail rebellion, and his tips on how to slow down are sensible and mostly doable, except perhaps for the most hard-core e-mail addicts. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“[A] thoughtful and provocative book.”—Seattle Times

“We live in a culture devoted to technology, and yet most of us cannot find the time to consider its history or its consequences. John Freeman has made the time, and has thought carefully about how we have gotten here…. Freeman knows his history, and he offers an engaging account of the evolution of correspondence.”—Bookforum

“An elegant self-help book. . . . Freeman uses lush prose and invokes examples from great literature to make his points. He comes at things not from a giddy utopian perspective that permeates most writing about technology but from a humanist one. It makes the book refreshing and powerful.”—Boston Globe

“[Freeman] brings the reader a fresh, intelligent look at email’s infiltration into and influence over every aspect of 21st century life. . . . The Tyranny of E-mail serves as an engaging reality check.”—The Daily Beast

“Freeman offers up fascinating trivia . . . [and] makes a persuasive case that e-mail has at once corroded epistolary communication and strangled workplace productivity.”—The New Yorker

“E-mail is eating us alive . . . Luckily for us [John Freeman] has a solution.”—Chicago Tribune

“A book with a title this bold and provocative . . . requires an airtight and compelling case to back it up. To keep us reading, the book must also inform and entertain. John Freeman . . . delivers on all counts.”—The Oregonian

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416576746
  • ASIN: B005SN5GLW
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,535,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
John Freeman's "The Tyranny of E-Mail" is a wakeup call that may be too late. In 2007 alone, "thirty-five trillion messages shot back and forth between the world's 1 billion PCs." Email is omnipresent. "We check it on the subway, we check it in the bath. We check it before bed and upon waking up." "Electronic erosion" is the replacement of tangible mail with email. Increasingly, customers pay their bills, shop, and even reveal their most intimate secrets online. So what's the problem? Isn't the convenience of instant communication and the ability to network, purchase goods, and even work from home a wonderful offshoot of our technological revolution?

Freeman would argue that we are paying a big price, perhaps without realizing it, for these conveniences. Instead of freeing us up to smell the roses, electronic gadgetry is taking up more of our waking and sleeping hours. (Many people get up in the middle of the night to check their emails.) Since we have become a wired nation, people get together less frequently to have a leisurely chat. We are expected to multitask at work to such an extent that we often lose control of our time and become less proficient at thinking out complex problems. The author puts his ideas in historical context, explaining how the invention of the printing press, postal service, typewriter, and the telegraph, among other marvels, revolutionized our lives.

Email, as the author points out, is far from the only culprit. Time spent surfing the net, texting, blogging, twittering, looking at YouTube, playing video games, and talking on cell phones is time that can probably be better spent thinking or relaxing.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bluestalking Reader VINE VOICE on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Usually when I use the word "riveted" I'm referring to a work of fiction. To be honest, I find a lot of nonfiction a bit of a slog, maybe because I do a lot of picking up and putting down, losing my place and forgetting what I've already read.

Not so with Freeman's book.

As an "almost" librarian, I'm very worried about both information overload and how truly important information will be weeded from the junk that's out there. So anything written on this subject already has the advantage with me.

Another part of me, that concerned with sociology and the future of our human evolution, worries what our increasingly shortened attention spans will eventually change the circuitry of our brains, and to what extent. Already it's said many people don't have the patience to sit and read a book anymore. And if they do, many choose e-Books over real glue and paper books. You can probably guess what that does to my librarian heart.

What I admire and find so engrossing about Freeman's book is not just that he highlights internet use and our increasing addiction to technology, but also that he goes back through history, explaining different eras of progress and how those times seemed so advanced at the time. Of course, what we have now trumps that by about a million %.

It's hard for me to imagine a day when what we have now is "old technology." I realize things change. I know technology that's big today will be obsolete next month. Maybe even next week. And, I know addiction to all things internet-related is a big, big problem.

At the same time, I'll admit I am not immune. I write blogs. I turn to the internet for book news and reviews. I communicate via Facebook and Twitter. And email...
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I found The Tyranny of E-mail to be an extremely thought-provoking book. It's very detailed and well-researched and the history it provides of "snail mail" and the telegraph is very interesting. Even though I grew up before the Internet exploded, reading it showed me that I've sort of forgotten what the world was like before you could communicate with someone halfway around the globe in a matter of seconds. Naturally, this made me think of how profoundly different our means of communication are from what they were in the past. In a relatively short amount of time, we have gone from living in ignorance due to a lack of means of communication to being constantly bombarded and inundated with news, blogs posts, and Facebook comments from friends.

What was really alarming about this book was how much of myself I could see in it. When I started college, having your own computer was something of a novelty, and my dorm mates would often stop by my room because I was one of the few people to have their own computer. It was very novel that they could Telnet into their text-based e-mail accounts from my PC. I can still remember the first few times I accessed the Internet via Mosaic. Because the Internet was still pretty primitive, we had to do things the old-fashioned way: make telephone calls, go to the library to do research for the papers we had to write, etc. Freeman really helped me realize how much I take those days for granted. Now, I'm so used to booting up my PC first thing in the morning to check my e-mail and to find out what my friends are eating for breakfast via my Facebook feed, that I've forgotten what it feels like to be disconnected.
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