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(Couple in front of a burning house; one comforts the other) On the other hand: inbox zero.

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I’ve given up on inbox zero, that holy grail of email productivity. For that matter, I’ve given up on pretty much everything zero.

My desktop is an anthill of icons (shoveled periodically into folders because I read once that every icon on your desktop chews up processor cycles and also is an abomination unto Apple). My browsers are bursting with open tabs. I have more Finder windows open than there are windows in every house I’ve ever lived in. I have four books partly finished on my Kindle and three science fiction novels on the go on my nightstand.

And you know what? I’ve made my peace with it. With all of it. Because I think at some level, I actually want a queue in every one of my life’s inboxes. Subconsciously, maybe I’m terrified of dying alone and unloved… but by god, at least I’ll have my two hundred open Firefox tabs to keep me company.

Perhaps what’s lacking for those of us who haven’t reached inbox zero isn’t persistence, but unbelievable, superhuman courage. Inbox zero demands that you one day stare unblinking and alone into the abyss, without the comfort of knowing several thousand unread newsletters (that one from last week, “Top marketers share their branding secrets for the afterlife,” would sure come in handy right now, wouldn’t it?) are standing be your side.

So to those of you with immaculate desktops, cavernous empty inboxes and a single, perfect browser tab open, I’m in awe. And it’s only partly from your work ethic and level of organization. What really impresses me is your capacity to embrace the looming void, your Kierkegaardian ability to define meaning in your life without relying on an endless list of unsorted Evernote clips to provide that meaning for you.

Inbox zero is for superheroes.

And good for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, Clark Kent here has some email to read.

(woman using mobile device) I keep dialing, but I can't get through to Hachette. (Caption: #1 most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone)

Number one most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone

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I’m not going to pretend I’m indifferent to whatever Jeff Bezos unveils at tomorrow’s announcement. There are all sorts of rumours of cool 3-D razzamatazz and drone technology a leap forward in online search.

But market dominance, technological disruption and all that stuff aside, I’d just hate to see the Kindle — yes, proprietary platform, DRM and all — drift once and for all away from its roots as an e-reader. I like the fact that my Paperwhite lets me read and do very little else; there’s no constant temptation while I’m reading to sneak away and check Twitter or play with Draw Something. (I’m looking at you, iPad.)

(cave person) Sure, me think fire is cool. But me worry about its impact on our brains.

This is your brain. This is your brain on fire.

This is your brain. This is your brain on fire. published on 2 Comments on This is your brain. This is your brain on fire.Purchase print

It isn’t easy to find the right balance between rah-rah bring-on-the-Bluetooth-brain-implants cheerleading and will nobody think of what it’s doing to the children?! fear-mongering. Certainly science doesn’t exactly offer definitive answers; Wikipedia conveniently gives you lots of evidence to support whichever position you feel like adopting.

(There’s also the argument that we’re pretty unlikely to turn away en masse from our screens, so let’s make the best of it.)

 As a parent, I can see my kids being changed by everything they do, from playing with Lego to taking hikes in the Endowment Lands to learning to read to, yes, surfing the net. And as a guy who insists that the social web is transformational, I have to be open to the likelihood that we’re being changed just as surely as institutions and organizations are. But is there anything especially surprising about the observation that change changes us? Is there something especially insidious, or necessarily bad, about change that’s digitally mediated?

I circle around questions like these pretty often, but here’s where I keep finding myself landing:

At a time when we’re facing urgent civilization-level questions around energy, climate change, food security, massive income disparity and several other issues, we’ve also developed tools that can connect us in ways that were unfeasible one generation ago; fantastical two generations ago; and barely imaginable three generations ago.

We’d be crazy not to ask how they change us, but the idea that we should reject them out of hand because, well, have you seen the way kids congregate staring at their devices? strikes me as even crazier. We have to draw on those tools, and more importantly the connections they make possible, to answer those questions together.

Maybe Nicholas Carr’s right, and it’s turning us into shallow, short-term thinkers. (Attention, people who use tl;dr the way other people use commas: you’re not helping.) I find it easier to believe that maybe there’s some good in there, too, as Dr. Gary Small suggests, and there’s some hope of using the web to improve our thinking – while we apply a little attention to make sure we remain empathetic, decent people.

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