Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Once upon a time, when one person wished to communicate feelings or news to another, it was necessary to compose the text, mold a clay tablet, and etch the words into the clay using a reed before it hardened. The very form of this sort of communication meant that selected messages were of great import to their authors. Clay tablets would never have inspired 3.2 billion users to receive and send thousands of mostly needless messages each day. That distinction goes to e-mail.
Thanks to e-mail, we live in an anxiety-ridden, reactive state, and rather than give each question the contemplation it deserves, we fire off a quick response. "Our minds, augmented now by the largest, most usable database in the world, are hampered in basic functions," Freeman writes. Virtual relationships, and the careless verbiage inherent in them, are speeding the decay of the very traits that comprise the best of humanity.
It's time, Freeman argues, to step back, and he's right. "The computer and e-mail were sold to us as tools of liberation, but they have actually inhibited our ability to conduct our lives mindfully," he declares. We need to meet in person, to talk, and to observe each other's gestures and facial expressions, because real friends and true relationships are in danger of following the clay tablet into the annals of history. Read Freeman's illuminating book and feel the shackles fall.
(Holiday 2009 Selection)
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.)
Freeman, literary book critic, former president of the National Book Critics Circle, and now the new American editor of Granta magazine, examines email communication technologies and behaviors from the vantage point of the history of correspondence. Treating email as a highly disruptive technology in our personal, social, and work lives, he reviews the effects handwritten mail, typewriters, postcards, and telegrams have had on our civilization. With that foundation laid, email is angrily attacked from every conceivable perspective. There are many insights, such as how email changes how we communicate, what we communicate, our sense of space and time, and who communicates to whom; however, many topics—e.g., the ramifications of unlimited email storage, email monitoring by employers, and correspondence that will be lost to history—are covered too thinly. Freeman's go-slow argument wanders considerably to throw punches at all kinds of online behaviors and technologies including sexting and egosurfing. VERDICT Luddites will gleefully race through this book in a few hours while others will have trouble following the argument and will skim—ironically, this is the very reading behavior Freeman abhors. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/09.]—James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Tech., Toronto
A cool yet unreserved manifesto against the drug-like, numbing consequences of e-mail correspondence and the alienating paradox at the heart of our so-called "connected" online lives. It's when e-mail overshadows those who use it, writes literary critic and Granta American editor Freeman, that we're in genuine trouble of surrendering our relationships, acumen, physical and mental health, creativity and time, all for the sake of convenience. The author is no Luddite, however, nor is the book a regressive polemic. Correspondence has always pursued expediency, writes Freeman, and he readily acknowledges the digital media's manifold benefits over previous modes. But as he repeatedly points out, e-mail is only the latest iteration of this logical progression from primarily geocentric (and agonizingly slow-to-arrive) pre-post office correspondence to the telegram to the first e-mail ever sent-on Oct. 29, 1969, over the pre-Internet ARPANET. We built these roads toward nonlocal communication, Freeman argues, but we now need to choose when and how fast to walk them, because speed "is not a neutral deity." Nor is e-mail's ubiquity neutral. No downtime and increasingly fewer chances to unplug both give rise to isolation, addictive behavior and a host of other negative psychological problems including sleep deprivation and degraded focus and memory function. Freeman cites numerous studies and quotes everyone from Bill McKibben to Susan Sontag in support of his central thesis that our hyperconnected lives are in reality anything but. The author's ten-part program to break what he considers a dangerous addiction to e-mail is predicated on a simple, potentially divisive premise: Don't send one. Freemanis a matchless writer with a talent for such bombshells, and his conclusions are rational, practical and wholly refreshing. First steps toward a Slow Communication movement?
[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