Several years ago the college where I teach created an electronic “quick mail” system to reduce paper use and to increase our efficiency. Electronic communication is now standard throughout most organizations. The results, however, are mixed at best. The obvious result is the large increase in the sheer volume of stuff communicated, much of which is utterly trivial. There is also a manifest decline in the grammar, literary style, and civility of communication. People stroll down the hall or across campus to converse less frequently than before. Students remain transfixed before computer screens for hours, often doing no more than playing computer games. Our conversations, thought patterns, and institutional speed are increasingly shaped to fit the imperatives of technology. Not surprisingly, more and more people feel overloaded by the demands of incessant communication. But to say so publicly is to run afoul of the technological fundamentalism now dominant virtually everywhere.

I appreciate the sentiment embedded in this quotation. What’s most significant, I think, is that it speaks to a reduced degree of mindfulness in communications because the analoge barriers of communication (e.g. the physical act of penning and sending and delivering a message) have plummeted. In the process of reducing the physical barriers of communication we fail to appreciate the intellectual demands of reading and responding remain the same; in the absence of physical reminders, it seems as though we more pervasively ‘forget’ the intellectual and temporal resources required to communicate. This forgetfulness is (at least in part) what’s to blame for communication overload today