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Our new national addiction: e-mail
Scripps Howard News Service


August 01, 2005

If you're the sort of person who checks his e-mail while you're in the shower, then this column's for you.

The nation is addicted to e-mail, perusing it around the clock and sometimes in the most inappropriate places, according to a new survey by Opinion Research Corp. and America Online.

(We'll pause while you mop up the beverage that you spewed when you read that America Online, one of the nation's largest providers of Internet service, is talking about e-mail "addiction." You've still got a little something on your chin. There, that's better.)

The survey of 4,012 American adults in 20 major cities found that most rarely go more than a few hours without an e-mail "fix." They spend an average of an hour a day on e-mail and rely on it for communication as much as they do the telephone.

The average user has 2.8 e-mail accounts, the pollsters found, though they did not specify how many of those accounts were devoted strictly to porn.

Forty-one percent of respondents check their e-mail first thing in the morning, and 40 percent have logged on in the middle of the night. Twenty-six percent say they've never gone more than two to three days without checking their e-mail, and 60 percent use e-mail while on vacation.

A whopping 61 percent confessed to checking their personal e-mail while at work. About 1 in 10 say they've gotten in trouble for doing so.

All these responses fit the standard symptoms of addiction: Can't leave it alone, even when it steals time away from family and responsibilities. Always thinking about it, even losing sleep over it. Can't take a vacation without having it along. Willing to risk disciplinary action at work rather than miss the latest corny joke being circulated among your friends.

This widespread addiction could become a serious social problem. How long before we see ragged, unemployed e-mail junkies loitering on street corners, sniffing and shuffling, stopping passers-by to say, "Hey, buddy, can you spare a wi-fi connection?"

The survey found that most any location is fair game for e-mail addicts. Twelve percent admitted to checking their e-mail while in class (and we wonder why our education system makes that large flushing noise), and 8 percent dip into e-mail during business meetings. Six percent check their e-mail at the beach or a pool, thereby defeating the whole reason for going to the beach or a pool.

Four percent of the respondents admit to checking their e-mail while driving. The survey didn't follow up on this, but I'd guess that same number read their e-mail while waiting for the wreckers and ambulances to arrive.

You'd think the bathroom would be sacrosanct, but no, 4 percent admit to checking their e-mail there. A bathroom does seem the appropriate place to sort through "spam."

Finally, 1 percent confessed to sneaking looks at their e-mail in church. I'm no theologian, but I'm pretty sure those people are going to hell.

The survey did not address what should be done about e-mail addiction, though I'm sure that somewhere there's a government-funded team of scientists researching the question.

I can foresee a day when lawmakers will initiate bans and/or regulations, as they have against most other addictions, to save us from ourselves.

Picture the police, guns drawn, saying something like: "Put the Blackberry on the ground, sir, and step away with your hands on your head. It's for your own good, sir."

That's liable to disrupt the church service.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)


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