“What do you mean you didn’t read my email?”
You’ve heard this asked. You’ve probably asked it yourself. And it is not just your email; wiki pages, code comments, chat messages and meeting minutes all fall victim to the content blindness that has become an epidemic with the current generation of information workers.
So why is it that so much information being generated by your enterprise is simply being ignored?
I’m no neuroscientist, but I imagine that if you put anyone who has an email and social media account in an MRI machine and watched their brain light up as they opened their inbox or scanned through their Twitter feed, you would see parts of the brain being activated in ways that humans have never used before. I’ll call this part of the brain the biofilter.
The primary purpose of the biofilter is to prevent information overload, and if your biofilter is anything like mine, it is brutally efficient at it. Not only does almost every email sent to my inbox get filtered out as not important, even messages from friends and family will often go ignored for days as my biofilter saves me from having to make yet another meaningful decision on some vague two-sentence piece of correspondence.
50 years ago it would have been a pleasure to receive a letter because you know the person writing it put in the effort to make the content worthwhile. I remember being taught how to write letters in primary school. They were works of art, with traditional formatting and careful consideration into crafting a story that the reader is interested in.
If only my teachers knew just how little value anything I now write has because these days receiving an email has about the same significance as a bug that has splattered itself on my windshield. If you can’t ignore it, you try to push it to the side. If you can’t push it to the side, you look around it until such time as you need to clean it from your vision, which is done with a one-line response whose only real purpose is to bounce the burden of responsibility back to the sender again.
Next time you send an email, consider this: we live in an age with the lowest signal to noise ratio that mankind, as a species, has even known. And you just pressed the send button.