Go to the archives

Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2007
Category: Self Help


Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload

Mark Hurst

If you could have not one single e-mail in your New Mail at the end of the day….

Zero e-mails? That’s a laugh. You’re so welded to your computer it’s like a spouse.  You bang out at least a hundred e-mails a day, get as many. Your life’s one long emergency. But are you drowning under information overload?  Of course not — you’re Busy Man (or Woman). That brimming inbox proves you’re important.

Zero e-mails? You wish. Once, back in the Pleistocene, you tried to catch up, but you failed, and now your New Mail is a rebuke. You have so much e-mail that it’s cut into your personal time. Are you drowning under information overload? Of course. Isn’t everyone? But especially you — Passive User.

Mark Hurst has a radical solution: Get on top of your bits.

Bits? You’re not alone in your ignorance. Bits, says Mark Hurst, are a new material. But just because Hurst is Prince of Nerds — he has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from MIT and did some graduate work at the MIT Media Lab before becoming a game designer — don’t for a second think he will drown you in binary theory and insider lingo. He is, more recently, a “consumer experience” expert. What he most wants is to make your experience…better.

So let’s just say that bits — “the electronic data that flows in and out of our e-mail inboxes, cell phones, Web browsers and so on” — have very personal properties. A laptop’s weight is fixed. Add 1,000 e-mails and it can feel heavy as taxes. But if you process those e-mails quickly and efficiently, those bits become weightless.

So “Bit Literacy” is about mastering new skills. Reclaiming time. Increasing productivity.

(Am I boring you?)

The first cure for too much information: “Let the bits go.”

“Emptiness,” Hurst writes, “is at the heart of bit literacy.” That starts with your e-mail, the most common curse of computer users. Your e-mail, Hurst argues, was not designed as a to-do list, filing system, calendar, address book and bookmarks list — your in-box is simply “a temporary holding place for e-mails, briefly, before they’re deleted or moved elsewhere.”

It’s easy to say, “Empty your inbox at least once a day.” Hurst shows you how. First deal with your personal e-mail (because, hey, life is more important than work). Then start filing and deleting and dealing. Manage your to-dos.

Step by step, Hurst helps you deal with this banal mess. At the end, he promises, lies freedom — or, at least, the freedom to do your actual job.

Tired of feeling that e-mail has become your life? You are, perhaps, a click away from relief.

To buy “Bit” Literacy” from, click here.

For Mark Hurst’s web site, click here.