Mr. Arrington might be tempted to purge his inbox and start afresh — the phrase “e-mail bankruptcy” has been with us since at least 2002. But he declares e-mail bankruptcy regularly, to no avail. New messages swiftly replace those that are deleted unread.
For most of us who are not prominent bloggers, our inbox, thankfully, will never become quite so crowded, at least with nonspam messages. But it doesn’t take all that many to seem overwhelming — for me, the sight of two dozen messages awaiting individual responses makes me perspire.
Eventually, someone will come up with software that greatly eases the burden of managing a high volume of e-mail. But in the meantime, we perhaps should look to the past and see what tips we might draw from prolific letter writers in the pre-electronic era who handled ridiculously large volumes of correspondence without being crushed.
When Mr. Arrington wrote a post about the persistent problem of e-mail overload and the opportunity for an entrepreneur to devise a solution, almost 200 comments were posted within two days. Some start-up companies were mentioned favorably, like ClearContext (sorts Outlook inbox messages by imputed importance), Xobni (offers a full communications history within Outlook for every sender, as well as very fast searching), Boxbe (restricts incoming e-mail if the sender is not known), and RapidReader (displays e-mail messages, a single word at a time, for accelerated reading speeds that can reach up to 950 words a minute).
But none of these services really eliminates the problem of e-mail overload because none helps us prepare replies. And a recurring theme in many comments was that Mr. Arrington was blind to the simplest solution: a secretary.