The internet has gotten out of hand and the problem is one of inboxes. Even just a decade ago, you were less likely to receive electronic mail as frequently as actual letters through your front door.

Today, though, email floods in, and most of us have more than one address. (Just counting those that I check regularly, I have four email addresses.)

But here's the thing: email addresses tell only part of the story.

You have other 'inboxes' too – if we accept that an inbox is something you check to see if there are new messages.

If you use Twitter, you can think of Mentions and Direct Messages as two discrete inboxes (that's my total up to six); Facebook adds its own inbox (seven), and your Wall is another (eight). Flickr has its own messaging system (nine), plus notifications of comments, favourites and the like (10).

eBay and LinkedIn have mail systems (12), forums usually feature thread notifications and private messages (taking my total to 16, when I add my regular forums), and banks lock correspondence with you away behind logins (20).

Even just looking at services I use regularly, I've managed to get my total inbox count to 20 – and that's an astonishing figure when you consider both how long you'll spend logging into these services over your lifetime, and how much brainspace you'll use up mentally corralling and digesting the information they contain.

I realised I was suffering from a background 'inbox stress' after doing this exercise. There are some ways to mitigate these concerns; many sites allow alerts to be pushed to email, where they can be managed with rules and Smart Mailboxes, and apps such as EventBox and services such as PeopleBrowsr help to aggregate social networking sites in increasingly useful ways.

But it's still a heterogeneous mess. In the meantime, though, here's a public safety announcement: your mental tranquillity decreases with every inbox, so beware. And stop signing up to new social networking sites…

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First published in MacFormat Issue 213

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