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Shrinking the World

Shrinking the World: The 4,000-year story of how email came to rule our lives

John Freeman

The first email was sent less than forty years ago; by 2011 there will be 3.2 billion users.

The flood of messages is ceaseless. As the toll of email mounts, reducing our time for leisure and contemplation, and separating us from each other in the lonely battle with the inbox, Freeman enters a plea for communication that is more selective and nuanced and, above all, more sociable.

Drawing on the research of linguists, scientists, critics and philosophers, Freeman’s history of correspondence reveals how changing methods of communication have eroded the great distances between us. He shows how the telegram, newspapers, synchronised time and railway networks have changed everything from the nature of military intelligence to the messages we write to loved ones.

From carrier pigeon to computer mouse, this fascinating and engaging history of how we communicate will make you view your inbox in a whole new light.

John Freeman
About the Author

John Freeman is the author of How to Read a Novelist, Tales of Two Cities, and the forthcoming Tales of Two Americas. Maps, his debut collection of poems, will be published by Copper Canyon in October. He is executive editor at the Literary Hub and teaches at the New School and New York University. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the ...

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304 pp
Text publication date:
26 October 2009
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Praise for John Freeman
andShrinking the World

‘A few decades ago, the ruler of Yemen ordered the northern gates of his city permanently barred, proclaiming “Nothing but evil comes through here.” After reading [Shrinking the World], I’m feeling the same way about my laptop. Freeman’s impeccably researched, eloquently argued book reveals the many ways this so-called boon to communication and productivity has become a distracting, privacy-sapping, alienating, addicting time-suck. He has convinced me that the new mantra for our times ought to be Tune out, Turn off, Unplug.’

‘A lively exploration of how technology—and email in particular—has overtaken our daily lives and turned the once-eloquent art of writing into a behaviour that encourages a torrent of self-absorbed output at the expense of introspection. In a culture where email seemingly begets a dozen replies, Freeman’s thesis can be summarized in two pleading words: don’t send.’

‘Email has its place, but we’ve forgotten what it is….We can communicate with more people more quickly and more often than before, but this doesn’t equate to efficiency.‘

‘A fascinating account of the rise of email from the development of words inscribed in clay tablets, through the development of the printing press and early email systems…Shrinking the World will be a wake-up call to those who feel their lives are being driven by their inbox.’

‘Scratch John Freeman’s gen-Y skin and you’ll find a closet Luddite…Shrinking the World is a highly readable history of communication, from epistles to email and stone tablets to spam.’

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