Do you suffer from digital exhaustion?

Frequent users risk addiction to electronic communications

by Jeri Cartwright
Ragan.com  4/1/2009

Was it Steve Rubel, the director of insights for Edelman Digital, who predicted a coming “attention crash”? Well Steve, I think a new superbug hit me today: digital exhaustion.

Are you at risk? Read on. On a recent morning, a glorious Saturday full of sunshine, I chose to skip a walk and stroll to my computer, determined to make my first blog post in several weeks. I couldn’t do it. My heart was heavy. My back and my wrists were limp. Brain fog did not respond to caffeine.

The information in my daily workload has been sliced so thin that my brain and the splintered messages it receives feel pulverized, like Jamba Juice in a blender.

Don’t get me wrong. The digital world is a blast. I love it — to my own detriment. I think we call that “addiction.”

Here’s my story:

Each morning ...

  1. Hundreds of e-mails arrive. Scanning to find the urgent ones in record speed hurts the mind and the eyes.
  2. My e-mail software informs me I send 3,000-4,000 e-mails each month.
  3. The social and new media world grabs me by the throat asking me to acknowledge new friends on LinkedIn and Facebook or come up with “30 things about me...”
  4. I hit the brakes to visit Twitter, TweetDeck and others. I’m just getting a grip on a new world of communication spinning out of control.
  5. Dozens of online industry newsletters with the latest research and great advice scream for my attention, and I really do try to read a few of the stories.
  6. Incredible free Webinars tempt me to log on and use my lunch hour for more digital education.
  7. More Google alerts arrive — more than I can manage.
  8. Oh yeah ... the news. I remind myself it still exists and pay a visit to my aggregator, hoping my community and the world survived the night.
  9. Rigor mortis sets in. Resting on a couch, I give myself the luxury of holding a newspaper in my hand. New blood pays a visit to long-numb body parts. An ergonomic work space can't perform miracles.
  10. Clever and highly professional phishing has forced me into regular and unwelcome investigative duties. Precious free time ticks away. I must make sure those e-mails warning me of breached and compromised credit card, stock investment info, etc, ARE NOT REAL. “Just ignore them you say?” Impossible. Sometimes I’ve found that a phish isn’t a phish. Spooky.
  11. I can’t contain all the passwords in my head. “Write them down,” you say? I once had my password list stolen. I’m too paranoid to do that again.
  12. A nice organized e-mail message no longer exists. Now they contain things like “yes,” “no,” and bit after bit of a major assignment. My daily job? Piece five to 10 e-mails together to discover what I’m supposed to do. More time, more work.
  13. Those who can't cope with managing minuscule e-mail threads ask me to do the searching and resend it all to them ... more work.

And then there’s the personal absurd stuff that further raids personal time:

  1. The phone rings. An automated voice warns me someone has stolen my credit card number…saying: “For more information please press any key.” I press any key. Nothing happens. But the calls continue, so I call my credit card company and find out that, yes, my card has been stolen. Weary fingers reach for the keyboard to go online immediately and create a new account.
  2. The phone rings. It’s an automated voice from Delta Air Lines, which reminds me of an April flight and coyly encourages me to go to the Web site for further details. I think that means there’s been a flight change…but the message is vague. Once again, I’m forced to go online.
  3. I receive five airline e-mails about flight changes for one trip. I can’t keep track of the data. I set up an airline and trip change filing system — on paper for safety.

Have I said enough? Way too much. I bet no one makes it to the end of my rave on digital exhaustion. Not even past the first paragraph.

Why hello! You did hang with me and read this entire piece — congrats! There’s hope for you. You believe in living for the moment. You refuse to scatter your attention as I have. You are not the adrenaline junkie I seem to be. You, my friend, have a healthy immune system ... able to fight off digital exhaustion.


Article originally appeared at Ragan.com.

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