This Is Your Brain on E-Mail

A new survey says people spend an hour a day on e-mail and rely on it as much as the telephone for communication.

Some might call it progress—others call it addiction.

Whatever the title, its hard to turn a corner without seeing someone flipping open a cell phone or PDA to casually browse through their e-mail inbox. Some might be checking for important work-related messages, others to stay on top of their social life. And the rise in wireless mobile devices makes that process as easy as ever.

Does paying regular attention to e-mail really classify as an addiction? Hard to say, but according to a joint study by America Online Inc. and the Opinion Research Corp., e-mail reading and maintenance is, for some, as common a daily routine as brushing teeth.

After surveying 4,012 adults who live in major urban areas, they found that people spend an hour a day on e-mail and rely on e-mail as much as the phone for communication. Seventy-seven percent of the respondents carry more than one e-mail account.

A few of the findings probably wont sound much different from the average on-the-go persons daily routine. Forty-one percent of the respondent said they check their e-mail first thing in the morning and 40 percent said that they have checked their e-mail in the middle of the night. Also, more than one in four said they havent let more than two or three days pass before checking their e-mail.

Another recent e-mail usage survey by the ClearContext Corp. found similar results: A majority of respondents spend one to two hours per day on e-mail, and a majority of them check e-mail on a mobile device.

Behavioral Associates executive director Robert Reiner said its hard to determine what makes people addicted to the Internet and e-mail. First, he said, it can be attractive because it allows people to morph into whoever they want to be. And if someone finds themselves checking e-mail constantly, he said it could be a sign of a larger problem.

"A lot of times, it expressing something bigger—like theyre addicted to work," Reiner said.

Other survey results found that the majority (61 percent) of respondents check personal e-mail on the job. One-fifth of the total surveyed said they feel guilty about checking personal e-mail at work, and women were twice as likely to express guilt about sending nonwork e-mails from the office.

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