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Jewish World Review
April 25, 2008
/ 20 Nissan 5768
Getting bit literate
Mark Hurst wouldn't like my e-mail inbox, particularly the one for my
Google "Gmail" account. We've never met in person, but I know Mr.
Hurst is a fanatic about what an e-mail inbox should and should not
contain, as I've just finished "Bit Literacy," his book on
"productivity in the age of information and e-mail overload." (The
book is published by Good Experience Press,
www.goodexperiencepress.com, at a list price of $22.99.)
The main thesis is that while computers have connected us to a world
of information, that world is overwhelming us. Having tons of items
staring us in the face as is the case with a bulging e-mail inbox
will cause, not alleviate, stress. Ditto, he contends, for the
hodgepodge of digital photos, music files, and documents that are
resident on many of our computers.
Mr. Hurst, as his book reveals, believes that e-mail inbox should be
empty, or at least as empty as possible, in that incoming messages
shouldn't linger. That I have approximately 35,000 messages in my
Gmail inbox would likely vex Mr. Hurst to no end.
His point is that an inbox should be no more than a digital
way-station: e-mails are either task related, such as a note from your
boss asking you to do something; or personal messages from a friend,
relative or from your bank; or the junk e-mail commonly known as
If your boss wants you to file that report, that's a "to do" item, or
"todo" (no space) in Mr. Hurst's world. Should your banker want to
speak with you, that's another todo . An e-mail from aunt Mary
may be delightful, but it should be printed out or deleted. And those
notes about enlarging this or that, well, trashing these is the very
least you can do.
"Bit Literacy," which in my view begins more strongly than it
finishes, makes a very good case for "letting the bits go," or
dispatching our digital data to a specific place and for a specific
purpose. Catch-basins such as e-mail inboxes, un-filed photos and
vague document file names such as "agenda.doc," which after all could
refer to a meeting this week or one five years ago, aren't likely to
contribute to real efficiency. The goal, Mr. Hurst maintains, is to
get through the day's e-mail and other items so you can get to "real
Such dogmatism goes beyond e-mail in Mr. Hurst's case. He's death on
fancy word processors, specifically Microsoft Word, because their file
sizes are generally way too large for the basic information being
conveyed such as the aforementioned agenda. Better to type the agenda
in a simple e-mail than create a Word document which must be opened,
he says, and in this case he's right.
He is more correct in advocating for to-do lists that make sense:
these should also clear out daily or roll over to the next day. There
should be enough information with each item to make it clear, and the
list for today should only contain today's tasks. Mr. Hurst sells an
online to-do service, www.gootodo.com, that embodies his principles;
30-day trials are free.
I'd dissent from the author's dissing of Microsoft Word. Mr. Hurst
rightly suggests brief items such as a meeting agenda, should be in
the body of an e-mail and not a much-larger Word document attached to
a message. But Word, and similar programs, offer much capability to
many users, and I wouldn't go with a wholesale trashing. I'm also not
sold on his advocacy of the Dvorak keyboard layout over the
industry-standard QWERTY, but I'm willing to experiment.
Overall, "Bit Literacy" is a bracing, hopeful read to those seeking to
cope with too much digital stuff. It's worth reading, especially in
Washington, where e-mails seemingly explode exponentially.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com