Uninterruptible Concentration and Why Donald Knuth Should be President

April 27, 2008 at 8:15 am 1 comment

My latest mental mash-up is about email and the presidency. Donald Knuth does work that “takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration” and thus chose to no longer use email. Now, if the White House had the same policy, then the White House CIO would not need to claim “that email messages from 2003 to 2005 either can’t be produced because they’re not missing, because the computers they were on have been destroyed, or because it’s too hard to find them.” Not only are tax dollars spent on controversies such as this, but government officials are spending time writing and reading emails instead of focusing on the country’s needs with uninterruptible concentration.

I don’t know what Knuth’s politics are, but his books are brilliant and I appreciate his stance on email. I spend too much time every day on email and, even then, it’s never enough. (Am I the only one who has ever started off an email with “Sorry I didn’t respond sooner but…”?)

Instead of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage“, Knuth can institute a moratorium on email. Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is money“, and Knuth’s platform can be “Email is time”. “Time is the only thing we have in our lives” and through email we allow strangers to take it away from us and destroy our concentration. How is this any different than a phone call from a telemarketer interrupting dinner (before the do not call registry)?

Entry filed under: Web 2.0. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Dave Ferguson  |  April 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    It seems to me the White House did have an informal no email policy, though a skeptical person might regard it as a “no paper trail” policy.

    I worked for a company specializing in business-to-business e-commerce. A group of Bright Young Folks seeking ideas for productivity came up with an “email smoke-out.” No email on Tuesdays. Wow, 20% less email!

    No. Same amount of email, shoved forward or backward, plus increased cost for FedEx to get out stuff that had to get out on a Tuesday.

    Given that the government in theory works for the people, it’s not unreasonable to want to check up on government, which requires record-keeping. That’s just part of the overhead, like financial controls or personnel records in the private sector.

    Nothing prevents an individual from using filtering or from choosing to check email infrequently — say, only twice a day. The fact that the telephone rings at home doesn’t create a need for me to answer it.


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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu


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