The e-mail system was invented by Ray Tomlinson (1941–2016) in 1971. With the advent of the world wide web and the development of the personal computer, e-mails have become the most common means of communication in business and commerce. According to the technology-research firm Radicati Group, more than 128 billion business e-mails are being sent and received each day. A business user deals with an average of 126 e-mails per day.
In 1995, the Information Technology Services Centre (ITSC) of CUHK set up HKIX, the first internet exchange centre in Hong Kong to provide an interconnection point for local ISPs. CUHK has since been the local hub for e-mails. It is estimated that as many as one third of a million e-mails get sent and received each day among CUHK members for purposes relating to teaching and learning, research and work. Each staff member deals on the average with 29 e-mails a day; each student 14.
That our students deal with only half of the number of e-mails as our staff do might be explained by the younger generation’s preference for social media. From Yammer to Slack (which stands for Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) to Facebook’s Workplace, increasingly sophisticated but user-friendly social media platforms have appeared in the market to organize and facilitate the work of those in an organization or office setting.
Office 365 is a platform available to CUHK staff members for organizing their workflow, processing documents and communicating among themselves. SharePoint and Microsoft’s Teams are two available options on the platform.
More options, however, may mean more distraction and the need to invest time and effort before the tools can become truly handy. In 2018, the software company RescueTime found that on average users checked their e-mails once every six minutes. Prof. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine found that the employees of a large company checked their in-boxes on average 77 times a day.
Lest concentration and discipline run scarce on the call of technology—those pings and buzzes from your cell phone and/or watch—take heed of what Prof. Cal Newport of Georgetown University wrote in The New Yorker: ‘Work has become something we do in the small slivers of time that remain amid our Sisyphean skirmishes with our in-boxes.’
This article was originally published in No. 543, Newsletter in Sep 2019.